ALEX OWITI: Brands need AI tools to manage crisis in the digital era

Today, corporates are at risk of issues and crises on digital platforms. This calls for leveraging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).

An issue could erupt on one of the popular social platforms. This could take the form of complaints about a product or service, or reactions to a brand’s communication regarding sensitivities to gender, a group of people, or culture.

It is always sparked by a tweet or comment on Facebook or Instagram before it spreads like bushfire. At this point, salvaging the situation calls for remedies to quell the fire and ensure that the reputation of the brand remains intact. However, when a brand is attacked on social media it suffers some of its reputation is eroded, and depending on the magnitude of the crisis, recovery may not be quick, due to the damage from negative sentiments.

Most communication experts can confirm that before the digital era, a crisis erupted from a scandal or leakage in the media. At that point, the remedy was seeking the right of reply or preparing a holding statement to counter the claims. However, the turnaround was very slow.

Today digital platforms offer opportunity for prompt response and direct engagement with the public as well as the aggrieved party. Digital platforms provide room to arrest the situation and deal with it in time. However, many brands often ignore a social media complaint, depending on its aggressiveness or the size of the complainant’s following. The issue could escalate in no time if taken lightly, based on its gravity and interest on social media.

It is important to consider some steps when dealing with the crisis on digital platforms:

  • Monitor the propagators
  • Think of the reach – the number of people likely to see or hear the message.
  • Authority – how much influence the propagator has over the intended audience, level of aggression, and hostility of the propagator.
  • Message and audience – how much engagement or discussion is generated on social media, by which audiences, and whether the message targets them directly.
  • Mobilization – if the message encourages people to act.
  • Risk level – When it is low – there are less than 10 to 30 posts per hour-low influence, users with their network size or followers with less than 200 to 1000 members, moderate – user has 1500 to 3000 followers, medium-size user has 50000 unique visitors weekly. Stories are picked by high-users with more than 3000 followers -60 times retweeted within an hour.
  • Use listening tools on social media like Hootsuite, Canvas, Google Alerts, Brand24, Tweetdeck, Sprout Social, Brandwatch, etc.

Therefore, the advent of AI integrated into social media platforms could revolutionize communication and how social media managers monitor, evaluate, and manage issues and crises online promptly.

AI-augmented software can today monitor and evaluate the gravity of an issue being escalated online. It can also analyze sentiments, whether negative or positive, and issue alerts on the levels. Just like in an ocean storm management system, oceanographic experts can issue reports on an hourly or minute basis and predict the extent of expected destruction. As a result, disaster management and preparedness systems are deployed to prevent or reduce the damage by issuing an advisory for evacuation.

Similarly, AI can adopt the same strategies and save brands from extensive reputational damage. Such systems are available today to help prepare for any issue that may escalate into a crisis. As a brand you can plan accordingly and institute strategies to cushion yourself from a barrage of reputational damage.

Furthermore, as part of big data analytics, AI enables brands to collect and collate information that can be used for plans and strategies. In the end, AI systems will help brands to save on cost and even be more profitable because they have safeguards on their reputation.

On the other hand, in a recent report by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and the impact on public relations (PR) practice, 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills (out of 52 skills) could be complemented or replaced by AI at that time, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% by 2023.

Today, assisted writing is now being supported by CHAT GPT. ChatGPT itself is at root a highly capable chatbot built on GPT-3.5 (Generative Pretrained Transformer 3), a so-called Large Language AI processing model developed by OpenAI that can generate human-like text-based content.

Open AI’s ChatGPT tool launched on 30 November 2022. Within a week it gained one million users. By the end of January 2023, this had risen to 100 million global users.

According to CIPR, given that writing is still one of the most prevalent required skills for any PR professional of any level of seniority or experience, it isn’t hard to see how ChatGPT may impact this aspect of practice. ChatGPT and similar tools such as Jasper AI can create written public relations content of any kind – press releases, email pitches, messaging, etc.

Christopher Penn communications and AI practitioner is quoted in the CIPR report saying “When it comes to the use of artificial intelligence, in particular, large language models like GPT-3 and the ChatGPT interface, what these models are good at is transforming inputs. Large language models, in general, are nothing more than massive statistical probability matrices. A word is told by the company it keeps”.

This means that these tools and models understand language only to the extent of the statistical distributions of the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that they appear in. That is why they can replicate grammar very well because grammar is nothing more than statistical distributions of words. They are autocomplete on steroids.

Telling a large language model to write a blog post about social media marketing can generate extremely bland, average content. Telling it to generate social media content about engagement rates on TikTok about time of day and gender is going to give you more specific content because the large language model itself can understand, based on the additional words you have provided, more of the context. It is drawing from additional statistical probabilities from those words – a word is known by the company it keeps.

However, what these tools produce is still a statistical average of what they’ve been trained on. They are not going to produce anything original because they can’t by definition. But what if you don’t want average? What if you aspire to more than mediocrity? What role do these tools play? Here’s the part everyone is overlooking: these tools are better at refining than creating, and that’s the secret we need to understand to unlock their power. Because these models – their technical name is transformers – are adept at taking in inputs and transforming them into outputs, they are BETTER at refining text than they are creating it.”

In conclusion, AI and big data analytics are today’s critical tools that help a business or brand make critical decisions especially when it comes to monitoring issues and crises during this digital era. Corporates must invest heavily in such tools to safeguard their brands from costly recovery processes that come after a stormy crisis because an issue was ignored or arrested late.

Alex Owiti is one of the leading PR Consultants in Africa.

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