Communications professionals have put NewsWhip’s unique media intelligence technology that quantifies and predicts engagement with all the world’s news to work in guiding extremely effective crisis response. Here, we outline how we’ve been monitoring the recent Houston Rockets crisis as it unfolds.

The Backstory

  • Hong Kong has seen protests in the streets as far back as March this year, as it fights to uphold some semblance of autonomy from China. 
  • Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted this month: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The now-deleted tweet sent waves through the NBA and China’s fans of the team, but the backlash was two-fold.
  • First, Chinese fans were upset about the original tweet, the Chinese Basketball Association told him to “correct the error” and the NBA was upset that he tweeted, dragging them into it as well. The Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta publicly distanced himself from the tweet, saying Morey “does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets” and that they are “NOT a political organization.”
  • Next, after Morey issued an apology on Twitter, some American fans were livid that he apologized, furthering the narrative that the NBA bows to China and would rather cater to their agenda and choose money than support Hong Kong’s freedom, or freedom of speech more broadly. The complete about face and its inevitable fallout has inspired more than 5,000 stories on the matter, and has been heavily reported since the tweet was deleted.

Using Predictive Monitoring to Guide Crisis Response

Know baseline engagement
In order to understand what steps could be taken next, we have to take a look at the data. In our work with top global agencies advising brands on crisis situations, we’ve seen that careful preparation and a disciplined, data-informed response are the keys for successful crisis management. But that starts with establishing a baseline, which involves a clear understanding of how content written about your brand performs over time.

Engagements to Houston Rockets Coverage in 2019

Chart showing engagements during Houston Rockets crisis

The Houston Rockets has spikes in engagement when there’s extensive coverage of a specific game (#1) or each time there’s a trade (#2), or in the case of the last spike (#3), Morey’s tweet sent media outlets scrambling to cover the story and several takes have translated into tens of thousands of engagements. A typical week for the Houston Rockets stays under 50k engagements, but at 477k, this is a highly engaged subject worth paying attention to.


Top ten most engaged articles about Houston Rockets

Regardless of whether your brand is in the thick of crisis or not, tracking stories and media coverage is imperative. Most of the news focused on the consequences of Morey’s tweets, with coverage accentuating China’s responses and ESPN’s internal memo informing staff how to write about the incident.

Chart ranking most engaged stories on Houston Rockets Crisis

While the web was focused significantly on Morey’s actions and the NBA’s response, social media told a different story. On Facebook in particular, coverage of the tweet and its consequences disappeared among general updates about the Houston Rockets.

Most engaged Facebook posts during crisis

Chart ranking top most engaged Facebook posts during Houston Rockets crisis

During the peak time of the crisis, posts about the Houston Rockets in Tokyo and Russell Westbrook made it into the top ten most engaged posts, alongside some of the other coverage. It didn’t completely drown out the other news on the platform, but it didn’t disappear either.

While social media continued to weigh in on the situation, stories began to die down until LeBron James made a comment about the situation. James told reporters, “but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke,” and stories covering his comments have racked up more engagement than the original incident.

Engagements to stories about LeBron James’ comments on China

Chart ranking the top stories about LeBron James and Houston Rockets

While the situation is ongoing, with our real-time and predictive monitoring tool Spike, our users can easily see how mentions of the issue or brand spreading across social. In the case of the Houston Rockets, we see coverage of the incident unfolding real-time across Twitter and Facebook, with a few top articles racking up most of the engagement. 

If you’d like to monitor your own media coverage in real-time, check out NewsWhip Spike.

Katherine Ellis

Katherine was a Content Strategist for NewsWhip working at the confluence of journalism + marketing. She was a prolific writer, whose wit and charm brought smiles to everyone in the office. We miss her terribly and hope that her memory lives on in the brilliance of the words she so lovingly wrote for us. Farewell, sweet Katherine! 

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