November 29, 2022

Listen More. Talk Less.

By: Rhea Gates

Twitter: @RheakaiGates


Social. Media. Crisis.

Three words no PR professional can hear or utter without an inevitable cringe. Unfortunately, social media firestorms are becoming regular news during our lifetime. You can hardly look at a television, computer or cell phone screen without being bombarded by the latest organizational blunder followed by new hashtags and passionate multi-platform conversations.

Anyone can comment and critique on a crisis situation after it happens, but why aren’t more organizations recognizing this unfortunate trend and trying to get ahead of the curve?

The answer is, more organizations are focusing on preparing their social media communications effectively in the first place and backing it up with a proactive crises plan. The key to success in both arenas is listening.

PR professional and professor at the University of Oregon Kelli Matthews provides her strategic social media class with a top 10 list of things any organization or individual should listen for in order to anticipate and avoid crises.

I’ve narrowed the list down to my top five for a given crisis scenario.


  1. The Crisis

Assess the social media situation.

What are the key terms, words, hashtags or phrases being used in association with your organization’s crisis? Can you use those same terms and tags to get your information out there? The Boston City Police Department made excellent use of hashtags to update the public about the marathon bombings in 2013. The established hashtag was utilized to distribute and correct information regarding the situation in real time and well after the disaster took place.


  1. The Point of Need

Monitor and listen to the questions your stakeholders are asking.

Whether they are directed at you, your competitors or other influencers it is important to acknowledge stakeholders questions across platforms in order to respond appropriately and genuinely.


  1. The Audit

Listen for your stakeholder’s responses to your content.

Is it positive, negative or getting lost in the noise of the Internet? Do you need to expand or adjust your messaging? If you take the time to listen to your stakeholder’s concerns and questions during step 2, this step should consist of adjustments based on stakeholder feedback. If you have to back peddle or completely reconstruct your messaging, you haven’t been listening effectively.


  1. The Competitor

Listen to your competitors.


Are they experiencing something related? How are they responding? Should you respond to their crisis, or distance yourself from them?

CVS and Walgreen’s interactions with each other after CVS’ announced they would discontinue the sale of cigarettes in its stores serves as a great example of competitor relations.


  1. The Thread

Know what’s being said about the crisis and where.

It is important to remember that conversations on social media are not static. Conversations, especially heated and passionate ones about crises, move furiously across platforms like wildfire.



What are people saying across platforms? What is the tone and focus on Facebook versus Twitter? Understanding the atmosphere and the direction of the conversations on each channel will prepare you to respond intelligently and appropriately. There is nothing more hurtful to an organization’s integrity and reputation than being the guy who walks into a pub in Illinois and says “how ‘bout them Yankees” when the Cubs just won the World Series.


Listen. Actively. Always.

Whether the crisis is creeping, slow burn or sudden, any potential eventuality can be avoided by simply having a crisis plan in place. Listening to your stakeholders and the social media environment overall will help you to anticipate scenarios before anything happens or handle them effectively when they do.

Listen before you respond and you will be rewarded.

8 thoughts on “Listen More. Talk Less.

  1. Great post Rhea. This post is so informative for people looking to learn more about crisis communication through social media and for companies who need more help in the social media crisis communication. I loved how easy it was to read and how simple the writing was.

    1. Thank you, Kylie.
      My goal was to keep it simple and clear, especially since social media marketing can be a bit confusing. I decided to focus on one small part of the preparation/active stage of research for social media marketing to make it seem less overwhelming.


  2. Thank you, Kylie.
    My goal was to keep it simple and clear, especially since social media marketing can be a bit confusing. I decided to focus on one small part of the preparation/active stage of research for social media marketing to make it seem less overwhelming.

  3. Rhea,

    I like the way you laid this out! Sometimes when people are faced with a crisis their first reaction is to hyperventilate which usually leads to scrambling around and creating an average looking plan. It’s easy to look at all of this information and get overwhelmed with all of the information you provided, but you laid it out in easy steps that make it much easier to digest.

  4. Nice post.

    I feel like it is way easier said than done though. When crisis management gets heavy, and loss of life is involved (such as our scenario in class), it has got to be so hard to take the time to flow through all of these steps. And on top of that, to feel like you are doing an adequate job and being respectful of the situation is no easy feat. I know this is part of life. But after our class discussion, there is no part of me that wants to be on a crisis management team. I think my default reaction would be to cry and do nothing. Not the most effective either!

    What I am saying is that I have mad respect for these people and companies that do this job well, and I also think that it is important to have some compassion for those that crumble under the massive amounts of pressure. EEEK

  5. Rhea,

    Thank you for sharing! As PR professionals, I feel like listening is such a huge part of our jobs, but it isn’t always necessarily followed. In a crisis, it becomes even more important to just breathe, listen and assess.

    I also love that you included the bit about the competitors in your top 5 list. I think that evaluating what your competitors are doing is such an underrated tool. They might know something that you don’t!

    Well done post Rhea!

  6. Hi Rhea, this is a great post regarding the issue of crisis control. It summarizes what we’ve learned in class in an organized and interesting manner. I like and agree with your emphasis on the importance of listening. It seems that when many people think of crisis control, they immediately think of action. Taking the correct actions is, in fact, important, but those correct actions cannot be rightfully established without active listening.

  7. Rhea, I thought this was a great post and enjoyed not only the content and examples, but how you went about writing it. I’ve found interesting analytics on how people are more likely to read a topic that has bulleted statements or walks you though a process short and concisely. Reading this gave me a really good and needed reminder about how we discussed different crisis scenarios.

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