Zach Silber
Zach Silber

For any organization that's been the subject of an unfavorable news story or social media thread, it can, in the moment, feel like a tree just fell on your house.

Communications leaders can relate with the familiar rhythm of a breaking event: The link is forwarded to you by countless colleagues and peers. Your Twitter notifications light up with what feels like an endless array of posts. There may even be follow-up inquiries from reporters, customers or employees.

This is an overwhelming situation, to say the least. But based on years of using data to assess and diagnose digital events, it's often the case that the tree you thought fell on your house in fact fell in the woods.

In many cases, when you take a breath of air outside a crisis bubble and objectively assess the broader environment around your organization's brand, you'll find less volatility, less urgency, and the realization that the world is focused on other things.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '22 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
(view PDF version)

Advanced PR data and analytics tools have enabled cutting-edge methodologies to take stock of an event's impact and reach in real-time, helping communications leaders make the determination of whether in fact a crisis is taking place and, most importantly, how to respond.

How can you use data to assess whether a situation is truly a crisis and what steps are needed to address it? There are three important questions to ask as you analyze an event:

Is traction with a news story or social media post speeding up or slowing down? Engagement is almost always contained to the first hours of a post going live before it quickly tapers down. It's helpful to understand whether your storm is growing or if it's passing. Depending on the situation, traction can be assessed daily, hourly or by the minute.

Is your event getting more attention than your brand's typical news or similar coverage? As a rule of thumb, we consider a story or post as "viral" if it receives more than 10 times the average number of social media interactions a brand, reporter or outlet typically receives. You should tailor a risk threshold based on your organization's most relevant benchmarks, but comparing engagement to similar events tells you whether this is a unique occurrence or par for the course. For larger brands, "crises" may very well be drowned out by the regular drumbeat of brand-related content.

What audiences are really paying attention to? News and social media posts can spread quickly as accounts share, comment and like content in their feed. But just as important as the raw number of interactions taking place is understanding the personas of audiences that are actually seeing relevant content or talking about you. In our increasingly tribal world, we often see content spread within an insular group of opponents or individuals who will never buy your product or support your cause. Therefore, it's critical to assess whether coverage or conversation has spread to the customers, stakeholders or media that impact your business.

Inside a crisis bubble, there's almost always a bias toward taking action. But in our experience, the data often tells you that no action is needed and that certain responses will only direct more attention to an event.

That's why at Kivvit we use these steps and more to provide clients with Impact Forecasts, a data-driven assessment that pinpoints where a tree has fallen and gives powerful insight into how to—or how not to—engage.


Zach Silber is Chief Innovation Officer at Kivvit.