For Companies, a Tweet in Time Can Avert PR Mess

A growing number of businesses are tracking social-media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to gauge consumer sentiment and avert potential public-relations problems.

Ford Motor Co. (F), PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) and Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV), among others, are deploying software and assigning employees to monitor Internet postings and blogs. They’re also assigning senior leaders to craft corporate strategies for social media.

One morning last December, Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, saw Twitter messages alerting him to online comments criticizing Ford for allegedly trying to shut a fan Web site, TheRangerStation.com. The dispute prompted about 1,000 email complaints to Ford overnight.

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