Over the past few years, the corporate communications role has expanded to the “protector of the brand.” Once managed through tightly controlled marketing and PR campaigns, corporate communications today incorporates managing the unpredictable nature of social media and the mobile-connected consumer. In a matter of minutes, anyone can alter the company narrative through a Tweet or YouTube video. Departments now have to sift through the millions of datapoints created daily through digital media in order to identify any negative press that could affect the reputation of their brand. These mentions have to be pinpointed instantaneously; if ignored the repercussions could be dire.

Delta recently faced an unexpected crisis that originated in social media. The airline removed Youtube star Adam Saleh from a flight after customers allegedly complained about him speaking in Arabic to his mother on the phone. A video of Saleh being removed from the flight ignited a firestorm on Twitter, with thousands of people responding to the Periscope video in outrage. Delta waited over 3 hours before issuing a response, allowing plenty of time for the general public to react to the story on Twitter. Within 24 hours, their stock price had dropped by more than 2%.

Influencers Drive the Story

The Delta incident is a textbook case of how a powerful influencer (with a strong following) can immediately spread a story around the world in a matter of minutes. Specifically, the power of influencers can be shown through two very similar incidents on Delta flights over the past month. The first involves Adam Selah; the second occurred in late November where a passenger shouted pro-Donald Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton remarks at other customers and was eventually banned from Delta flights for life.

Both incidents occurred before takeoff and both had videos of the events shared online. The difference was that Adam Saleh is a social media star famous for his prank videos, with 290,000 followers on Twitter and 2.25 million subscribers on his Youtube channel. The woman who shared the video of the belligerent passenger shared the video with her Facebook friends. The pro-Trump rant generated 79,000 mentions over two days, while the Adam Saleh story took just 3 hours to surpass this mark. Communications professionals need to know the instant an influencer mentions their brand. This way teams can immediately see the context in which the brand was mentioned and gain an idea of how fast their opinion or story will spread.



The Power of Twitter

The nature of Twitter’s makes it the perfect channel to disseminate information at lightning speed. The speed of the platform is the ideal communications engine for the general public to post emotional reactions to events. This trait creates a double-edged sword for brands; Twitter can be a place where positive stories can earn a company far more goodwill than any marketing campaign, or a forum where an angry customer’s message can be circulated around the globe within minutes, causing serious damage to a brand’s reputation.

In the case of Adam Saleh, there were over 100,000 tweets around the topic before the Middle East Eye became the first news outlet to publish a story around the incident; the Periscope video he tweeted had 593,000 views and tweets around the topic had generated 1 billion impressions within 12 hours. The majority of the reactions on Twitter expressed outrage that Delta would do this to a customer. This set the emotional tone of the story before news outlets or Delta had a chance to respond to the events; any reaction from that point on had to follow the same narrative. Twitter has the power to amplify the emotional reaction to a story within seconds. Communications and social media professionals must be able to proactively track the conversation around their brand. Through this, they can attempt to drive the narrative back in a more positive direction.

Smart Filters Give Immediate Insights for Saleh

With a large brand like Delta, not all the traffic will be about the incident communications teams want to look at. While the issue with Saleh was going on, there were still hundreds of customers complaining about cancelled flights. While also an important issue, teams want to be able to filter out unrelated information so that only the details around the problem at hand can be seen.

The graph on the left shows all traffic for Delta, where cancelled flights were the second biggest topic. The graph on the right shows information only related to Saleh’s ejection. In this chart, mentions of cancelled flights drops down to 2. With a hyper-focused view of the data, communications can identify the root of the problem and implement an adequate response plan.



Communications teams must have a way to unearth these stories in realtime with the relevant context so a relevant crisis response plan can be implemented the instant a negative story starts to spread. No response, or even a late one, has the potential to cost a brand millions.

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