Issues Media Monitoring and Response Analysis – December 2013 through February 2014

by Season Solorio, Executive Director, Issues and Reputation Management, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Joe Hansen, Associate Director, Issues Response, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, contractors to the Beef Checkoff

Summary
The underlying philosophy of the Issues and Reputation Management program is to carry out measured responses – this means avoiding creating news and targeting the best opportunities for response. If left unchecked, these issues could decrease consumer confidence in beef or damage the reputation of cattle farmers and ranchers. In today’s world of data and social media, Issues Management is no longer a one size fits all approach, but rather issues responses need to be appropriately matched to the coverage and attention an issue is receiving.  On a daily basis, the Issues and Reputation Management teams on behalf of the Beef Checkoff carefully survey the landscape across traditional media, broadcast media and social media to determine which issues warrant response. Using a variety of tools, including CARMA for broadcast and traditional media monitoring and Nuvi for social media monitoring, and overlaying data from both applications, the team has a clear picture of how an issue is playing out in the external environment. This information can be carefully weighed and considered when planning the appropriate level of response. This article explores the tools and philosophy that the Issues and Reputation Management team utilizes, as well as explores the traditional and social media coverage in Spring 2014 in order to demonstrate how these tools are utilized. Future Beef Issues Quarterly articles will focus on analyzing the issues that took place during the past quarter.

Background/Methods
Traditional media and broadcast media monitoring provided by CARMA, one of the world’s leaders in media monitoring based in Washington, DC, provides a real-time snapshot of how an issue is being discussed in major publications; from the Wall Street Journal, all the way down to local NBC-affiliates, such as NBC’s KULR-8, in Billings, Mont.  CARMA also has a team of highly trained analysts that provide a rating – positive, negative or neutral – based off a proprietary 100 point scale to all print media mentions.  They weigh multiple factors including who is quoted in the story, if a key message is shared in the story and publication influence.  This third-party review of articles is critical to the team in order to maintain authority, credibility and to be able to look at articles through an unbiased lens. CARMA is able to provide clips to broadcast news stories that mention beef or other keywords within moments of airing. 

Social media is monitored using a cutting edge web-based application called NUVI, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.  This platform was originally designed for a Fortune 500 company to be able to monitor what individuals were saying about their brand on social media.  This technology is used for second-by-second monitoring of online, publically available, conversations – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit, online news sites, blogs – around a specific issue or topic.  Users with privacy setting on their social media network properties that do not allow everyone to access them cannot be seen.  The same technology is used to monitor, on a daily basis, a minimum of 40 issues that could potentially impact the beef industry. 

As the Issues and Reputation Management team reviews all of this information and data, they discuss what level of threat the issue is, categorized by a color-coded system and they match the appropriate actions to the level of threat: 

  • Code Vanilla – An issue that is not new, has happened before, is receiving minimal visibility and involves “like talking to like.” In these scenarios, the team is for changes that could elevate the issue. 
  • Code Yellow – An issue that is an isolated situation (one area), but may result in media inquiries or have some new twist to the issue that will “give it legs” and potentially increase visibility. In these scenarios, the team is providing counsel, informational resources and supporting the affected parties to contain the situation and shorten the impact.  
  • Code Orange – An issue deemed a crisis by a sector of the industry and visibility is regional or national in scope and media inquiries are at a higher than normal level. In these scenarios, the team is deploying resources, third-party experts and industry resources, trying to contain the situation and shorten the impact. 
  • Code Red – An industry-wide crisis that is large in scope and highly visible, having the potential to have a large negative impact on consumer confidence in beef. In these scenarios, the team is deploying all resources to maintain or regain consumer confidence.

Depending on the issue and level of threat, the team may develop a trigger-based response plan, a document that ultimately serves as a crisis playbook for an individual issue or crisis response.  This trigger plan takes into account previous coverage of a similar situation and what is considered “normal” coverage and conversation around the topic.  For example, the antibiotics social media monitor in NUVI receives approximately 600-750 mentions per day online (it’s important to note that these mentions are not beef-specific mentions, but rather encompass all mentions of antibiotics and livestock).  An analysis is done as to what would constitute increased levels of conversation.  In the antibiotics example, more than 850 mentions per day would be considered elevated, more than 1,000 mentions per day would be considered very elevated.  Response tactics are then tied to the various tiers of coverage and the appropriate tactics are elevated as coverage elevates. Response tactics could include activating the checkoff-funded Masters of Beef Advocacy graduates or posting a new myth on the checkoff-funded website, FactsAboutBeef.com, in order to drive social media discussion back to the website. 

The following discussion explores two issues that the Issues and Reputation Management team was monitoring over the last quarter and explores how utilizing this data works with building out a response.

Discussion
Each quarter, CARMA reviews traditional media coverage and a small sampling of social media monitoring coverage and assigns a favorability rating to this coverage. From December 2013 through February 2014 a total of 690 traditional media stories and a random sampling of 1,020 social media mentions were analyzed as part of the quarterly monitoring report through CARMA.  The random sampling of 1,020 social media mentions were a snapshot of more than 795,000 mentions of the beef industry during the same period.  See Figure 1 for a breakdown of favorable, unfavorable and neutral coverage across traditional and social media for the period.

One of the largest beef related stories during the period was the recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef from Rancho Feeding Corporation based in Petaluma, Calif.  Initially, the USDA announced a recall of 40,000 pounds on the basis that the beef had been “produced without the benefit of full federal inspection.” Then on February 8, the recall expanded to include all of the plant’s production from January 1, 2013 – January 7, 2014, a total of 8.7 million pounds.  The recalled product was sold under a wide variety of product names, including Great Value 85/15 hamburgers sold at Walmart and Nestlé Philly Steak and Cheese HOT POCKETS®. 

During the period from January 7 through February 28, 2014, there were a total of 30,534 mentions of all beef recalls, with an overwhelming majority having to do with the Rancho Feeding recall.  These mentions yielded more than 85 million impressions online.  The conversation was led by The Huffington Post, The Associated Press and USA Today (which posted an animated Vine video).  Once of the key indicators of whether or not an issue is going to grow is embedded sentiment within a post, see Figure 2.

This largely covered media event is an interesting case study. The Issues and Reputation Management team knows from past experience that when it comes to recalls, media and consumers want to hear from the company affected. While the team was actively monitoring news about the recall, social media and traditional media did not suggest that consumer confidence in all beef was being impacted, therefore, there was little role for the Checkoff to proactively play in this issues response scenario. One of the major outcomes from the Rancho Feeding Recall was a post of FactsAboutBeef.com about USDA Meat Inspectors.  The post entitled, USDA Food Safety Inspectors are Required at All Federally-Inspected Beef Processing Plants has quickly racked up views from food-informed consumers seeking information about safety checks in-place through the slaughter process.  This post is publicly available and search engine optimized for consumers looking for information about how meat is inspected, even though it does not directly talk about the recall at hand.

Conclusion
Striking a balance between not drawing more attention to an issue and providing an adequate industry response is equal parts art and science. By taking massive amounts of real-time data and making it actionable, the Issues and Reputation Management Team on behalf of the Beef Checkoff is able to navigate complex issues and better inform issues response opportunities.  Color-coded threat indicator systems help the team determine appropriate levels of action and notify stakeholders of these actions. Trigger-based response plans help for planning in advance of an issue and having pre-defined thresholds of conversation for specific action items.  This grounds the team and, in some cases, the broader agriculture industry in a set of actions. 

Traditional and social media are not going away. But being able to harness the mountains of data to guide a response, and not overwhelm, is an emerging area. The Issues and Reputation Management Team is able to draw upon more than 50 years of combined issues and crisis communications experience, while also utilizing cutting edge technology to review data and make it actionable.

Additional Resources
Beef Checkoff - FactsAboutBeef.com
U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance – FoodDialogues.com

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Issues Monitoring, Spring 2014

April 2, 2014