Editor's note: The following opinion article is the third in a three-part series by guest columnist Richard S. Levick, the president and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, the world's largest crisis communications firm. Levick is the co-author of 'Stop the Presses: The Crisis & Litigation PR Desk Reference' and writes for bulletproofblog.com. Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2. Levick welcomes your comments here.

Effective use of social media to prevent and respond to reputational crises isn't about checking boxes and moving on. It's an ongoing process that requires daily vigilance. Here are the questions you should be asking your corporate communications officers, the answers you'll receive if your company still isn't up to speed, and the follow-up responses you can use to get your communications team back on the right track:
  • Question 1: Are we watching the blogs, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter for mentions of our company?
  • Wrong Answer: Yeah, boss. We've got Google (GOOG) alerts set up for our company name and all our marquee brands.
  • Your Follow-Up: But who are the high-authority bloggers (those that are most influential in the digital and traditional media space) covering our industry? And how often are you reading what they're writing?

Social media's power to alert a company to crisis at the earliest possible point isn't just limited to instances where your company or major brands are explicitly mentioned. Perhaps a competitor is taking criticism for practices that your company engages in too. Perhaps issues are emerging on the horizon that will affect your entire industry. Identifying the high-authority bloggers covering your industry and carefully monitoring what they write is the only way to ensure that you stay ahead of every potential liability -- whether or not any of them have ensnared your company.
  • Question 2: Are we prepared to get our messages out there in case we start taking hits in the social media space?
  • Wrong Answer: Yeah, boss. We've bought up some Google AdWords.
  • Your Follow-Up: But is our Web site optimized to be ranked first on Google? What is our blog engagement strategy? Do we have a YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter account of our own?

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Today, you can't just rely on Google AdWord buys to direct Web searchers to your messages in crisis. You have to anticipate your likely reputational exposures, identify the keywords that Internet users will use to search for information on those exposures, and optimize your Web site so that your crisis messages will be found first.

You must also be prepared to join the conversation taking place online. That means engaging the high-authority bloggers that you've previously identified. It means active use of Facebook and Twitter to shape the viral commentary taking place. And it means being ready to produce and upload viral video at a moment's notice. Your messages need to be where your audience can see them, not just in the Web venues that you control.

  • Question 3: What are we doing to proactively engage the social media space and build an online bank of trust before withdrawals during crisis leave it in the red?
  • Wrong Answer: We're all set, boss. We've got a blog.
  • Your Follow-Up: But are we using it to engage our most vital audiences?

A corporate blog is more than just another venue to reiterate the messages of the day. In fact, it's far more about your stakeholders than it is about your company. Effective corporate blogs are conversational. They are venues for listening as well as speaking. They solicit comments from employees, consumers and other stakeholders so that issues can raised and addressed transparently. That's how a blog moves from just being just another corporate mouthpiece to a tool that demonstrates concern for the issues your stakeholders care about most.

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