Social media monitoring is a distant early warning system for brands

United Airlines clearly had no idea how badly it was botching its public relations campaign. Systems like Keyhole could have flagged the problem sooner

United Airlines planes

United Airlines planes on the runway. (David J. Phillip/AP)

The other day, I wrote about how it would be nice if there were some sort of anger meter attached to online articles and social media posts. With new outrages happening virtually on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep track and know which to legitimately care about and which are the proverbial mountains out of molehills.

Companies might also benefit, since such a meter could warn them of impending disaster for their business, as was the case last week with United Airlines and its forced removal of a passenger. The violent incident, captured on video, inspired a boycott that knocked 4 per cent off the airline’s stock last week.

The funny thing is, most businesses do in fact have access to outrage meters of a sort in the form of social media monitors. Numerous companies watch and gauge social media reactions to events and smart businesses employ them to avoid United-style public relations disasters.

Keyhole is one of those monitoring services. The Toronto-based startup was able to see the United fiasco unfold in real time. Anyone following its metrics would likely have acted swiftly to contain the damage.

The sheer number of tweets on Twitter coupled with the common phrases showing up in those comments made it clear that United would have a real problem on its hands:

Keyhole chart showing Twitter mentions over time for “United” Word cloud showing Twitter sentiment related to “United”

United chief executive Oscar Munoz initially reacted to the incident combatively, referring to the manhandled passenger as “disruptive” and “belligerent.” It took him days to adopt a more contrite and apologetic stance, a mistake that surely helped fuel the stock meltdown.

With online outrage so common, the services provided by companies such as Keyhole – housed in Toronto’s rapidly growing OneEleven startup accelerator – are likely to become increasingly more valuable.