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When Crisis Strikes: Four Do's and Don'ts of Social Media Triage

By Brian Pittman, Associate Publisher and PRU Training Director, Bulldog Reporter

As you know, crises can spread like wildfire—thanks in no small part to the viral nature of Twitter and other social media. So how can you be better prepared to use online media when facing crisis situations? How can you protect your brand and keep bad news, bad reviews, lies, rumors or worse from spreading online?

Dozens of books have been written on the topic. Countless webinars have been held on the topic. And I've interviewed plenty of experts on the topic. Here are some quick tips from some of the insiders I've spoken with recently for PR University:

1. Do monitor—don't splurge. Many panelists I prep for PR University webinar panels say they use Radian 6 and services like Sysomos to monitor what's being said about their brands in social media. A few even have social media command centers set up and manned 24/7. But there are ways to monitor effectively without gutting your budget.

Take Steve Tuttle, VP of communications at Taser, for example. "I monitor Twitter pretty much around the clock," he says. Beyond that, he relies on:

  • A fulltime assistant on staff who reviews Google (Alerts), Yahoo and TV Eyes, and provides him with a report every morning (average of 100+ video hits & 200+ news alerts). 


  • Emails from any of the 20,000+ TASER instructors who may have been alerted to breaking crisis situations. 


"It works," he says. "But an arrest-related death in Chicago beat all of these methods in a simple non-# Twitter search," he says, referring to the fact that he typically stays on top of trending Twitter discussions about the brand via hashtags (e.g., #Taser, #tased, etc.). "Twitter is one of my best tools for searching," he says. Why? Because:

  • It's fast.
  • It cuts to the chase (often with a link).
  • It provides him with only what's relevant in social media.

However, Twitter monitoring can lead to knee-jerk reactions. Instead of responding to everything you see on Twitter, he advises responding only to items with "hang time." If it upgrades to dozens of retweets and even a hashtag, suggests "hang time," he explains.

2. Do analyze—don't rely on tech. Tuttle places a premium on people over automation when it comes to online crisis analysis. When real crises simmer or erupt online, "I use human intelligence," he says. "No social media algorithms are working for me. For example, is a video a 20-second blip or is it deep? You're not always going to get that if you rely on automated analysis."

Tuttle also warns against becoming too enamored with social media when it comes to crises response. "Will a phone call work better than social media?" he asks. Taking responses offline can sometimes be better option—and may even end the digital chatter.

Heather D. Read, program manager, social media at DuPont Public Affairs, offers these more detailed crisis monitoring and analysis tips:

  • Map multiple events to put data in perspective
  • Understand the impact of the discussion by tracking volume over time
  • Put each event in perspective with volume and trajectory of other topics and overall discussion about your company
  • Understand whether the discussion is happening in niche communities or the general masses
  • Blogs and forums generally indicate small, focused community discussing a topic important to them
  • Pick your metrics (net sentiment vs. drivers of passion or sentiment)
  • Establish a baseline volume and sentiment metric or score
  • Measure before and after a crisis

3. Do target Google for SEO—don't overlook paid search. PR University panelists repeatedly underscore Google's power in the realm of search. Their advice in crisis situations is to focus on Google in particular, thanks to its vast content network and social media presence. In addition, consider paid search around trending keywords related to your crisis, advises Read.

She also recommends, "Defining an overall crisis content strategy with SEO in mind" … which brings us to the next point: "The blog is the 'hub' of the social strategy in crisis situations here," says Read. "It's optimized for search (SEO). The strategy is to drive traffic to the blog from search and social networks," she explains. "Getting the 'right' eyes on the content is supported through paid search and social ads."

4. Do blog—don't ever go silent. Of course, you also need to get your message out online to educate and inform…and to begin to push your response up in search. What's the most efficient way to do that? As Read suggested, a blog may be your best bet. JetBlue's Allison Steinberg, senior media analyst and editor of the airline's official BlueTales blog, certainly agrees.

"We publish updates on our BlueTales blog ( as a 'center of gravity' and link out to our other channels, or 'satellites'—Twitter, Facebook, other internal channels and mainstream media."

Steinberg offers this additional guidance for what to post and when:

  • Publish the first statement within 30 minutes of the first report of incident and share only confirmed information.
  • Never go silent: Get something out even if you can't say much.
  • Use time stamps when you publish updates on your company blog.
  • Temperature check via social to determine how broadly a statement should be shared.
  • Collate trending sentiment/concerns and answer in subsequent global statement.
  • Publish timely updates for reporters and customers.
  • Include images where appropriate to help illustrate your point/assets for media.
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