Social listening can offer brands useful insights but marketers should be wary of over-reacting to criticism on these platforms, according to a new report which identifies the crises they do need to worry about.

“Elite commentary and conversations on social media are often driven by questions of culture and politics. It’s a lot more interesting to dissect than a product recall,” notes Morning Consult VP Jeff Cartwright in an introduction to the brand intelligence company’s report How To Identify And Survive A Brand Crisis.

But the people who feel strongly enough to voice their opinions on these matters are not, in general, addressing the day-to-day needs of an average consumer.

“If I could impress one lesson upon any Chief Communications or Marketing officer, it would be this: stop relying so heavily on social media to evaluate consumer sentiment, especially in times of crisis,” says Cartwright.

“Time and again, we have seen that Twitter outrage does not translate to a real change in consumer perceptions.”

As a Morning Consult survey of 2,200 people showed, what does move the dial on this metric is lying – whether that’s lying to customers to increase profits (71% would feel much less favorable towards a company), falsifying accounts to increase profits (68%) or lying to the public about how a product works (65%).

More generally, covering up wrongdoing (36%) was seen as the most damaging type of controversy, ahead of mistreatment of employees (34%) and mistreatment of customers (31%). Offensive comments and taking a political stance are the least damaging controversies, although Boomers are notably more touchy about politics than younger generations.

In the event a company does have to tackle a crisis, it has to be seen to be taking action. Formal apologies may be necessary but consumers see these as being largely for show; people need to be fired (consumers tend to prefer the person directly responsible to go rather than the CEO) and processes altered.

And, encouragingly, a large majority (78%) agreed they might view more favorably than before a company that responded appropriately to a public controversy and took active measures to ensure it didn’t happen again.

Sourced from Morning Consult; additional content by WARC staff