MEASURE. ALWAYS. ALWAYS MEASURE.
How often should you poll? Let us ask you this: how often are vital signs taken during a medical emergency? Constantly. That may be more often than is practical or affordable for your company, but the short answer is: measure public sentiment as often as you can.
You should always have a (recent) baseline study regarding how your business (and industry, etc.) is perceived. You need this for comparison’s sake, among other things. Next you need to have the people, places or technology in place to take the pulse for you—people on your staff? Outside firm? Focus groups? Online surveys? There are arguments both in favor or against all of these, so you have a lot of decisions to make.
Sometimes you know exactly what has happened and what the repercussions are likely to be. But often that is not the case. And today, you have to be able to get some help determining whether “Twitter is blowing up” because of a legitimate news story or because of some very active trolls. Read that part again. This is important. It is more difficult now to know for certain whether or not a real storm is coming.
If it is, you should have your team in place (as we have mentioned MANY times)—which may include a research company or part of your staff. As quickly as possible, get a pulse. Is it as bad as you thought? Worse? Are there misconceptions to address? Polling can help a lot in crafting messages and responding properly. What should you do after taking the pulse? Take another pulse!
If there IS a legitimate crisis, make sure everyone at your company knows what is going on—not because they will be speaking to the press, but because they will be asked by everyone they know (if it’s a big enough story or a small enough town). Circulating a simple FAQ sheet will help everyone and keep the rumors to a minimum.
Have you ever heard the carpenter’s advice? “Measure twice, cut once.” That’s good advice. What we would change, as it pertains to polling, is the number of times you measure.