Public Relations (PR) has been around for a long time. Traditionally, its success was measured by the extent of media coverage and brand exposure that a company achieved. However, the emergence of social media has greatly influenced this industry that it now warrants a new definition.

To use the words of Adam Lavelle from Merkle, “Before the rise of social media, Public Relations was about trying to manage the message an entity was sharing with its different audiences. Now, PR has to be more about facilitating the ongoing conversation in an always-on world.”

Public Relations is as important as ever in building, maintaining, and protecting a company’s reputation. But a lot of things have changed as well. As Lindsey Kirchoff of HubSpot put it, “SEO experts should think of PR as a way to build strong referral links.” PR in the 21st century is somehow relegated to a “bragging rights” status—and yet the paradox is clear that PR is more powerful than ever before.

The Inevitable PR Revolution

The Inevitable PR Revolution

Social media has undoubtedly revolutionized corporate communications. In the case of PR, what was once a monologue is now a meaningful discourse that solicits the participation of brands and customers alike. This transformation can be attributed to the world’s progression towards technological advancement.

The rise of the online platform and the decline of print media have paved the way for direct and instant communication between companies and their clients. This means that Public Relations is not constrained to professionals anymore. The number of people involved in PR grows as more communication platforms emerge.

PR is no longer about content creation but content curation. As Daniel Tisch of Argyle said, “In a world where the ordinary consumer is walking around with global publishing power in his or her pocket, the role of Public Relations and corporate communications has shifted from creating content to attempting to influence the content that’s created by others.”

Clearly, a lot has changed in PR since the advent of social media. But if there’s one thing that remains untouched, it’s the main principle of Public Relations: telling the right story to the right person at the right place and time.

How to Contain a Crisis at the Speed of Social

Crisis at the Speed of Social

To some extent, social media puts PR at an advantage. After all, it provides the latter with opportunities for communication and exposure. But, as they say, everything has a flip side. Social media can turn into an instrument of destruction, especially for companies skating on thin ice.

An example of a brand that fell into the dark pits of social media is the fashion icon, Vera Bradley. In 2016, the company launched a Twitter campaign called #It’sGoodtoBeaGirl, which, by its name alone, is already a tad cringe-worthy, given the fact that it targets women aged 25 to 40. Vera Bradley’s campaign had an 80% chance of backfiring from the outset. They might have had feminism in mind, but their publicity stunt just came off as sexist. The campaign showed backwards views in the modern context, which naturally infuriated modern thinkers. Following the blunder, the company lost almost 11% in comparable sales.

As you can see, once a negative word comes out, it will only be a matter of minutes before everything falls apart—that is, unless the brand concerned acts on the problem wisely. A potentially destructive news shared on social media can spread like wildfire and destroy a company’s reputation in a blink. If you ever come across a reputation crisis, take the following tips.

1. Have a plan in place

The best way to address a crisis is to anticipate it. Social media is unpredictable—you can’t really rule yourself out as an exception. That’s why you need to come up with a plan to solve different problems before they emerge. It’s not a question of whether or not something unpleasant will happen. It’s a question of whether you’ll be ready for it when it strikes.

2. Use social intelligence platforms

With everyone voicing out their thoughts in social media, it’s imperative that you find out what’s being said about you. To do this, you can use different platforms that automate social analytics. Use a platform that can track keywords, send alerts, monitor social mentions, and analyze social data in general. Some of the apps you can use for this purpose are 20Twenty, Synthesio, Pulsar, and NUVI.

Use Social Intelligence Platforms

3. Retrieve accurate information

Before you attempt to solve a problem, make sure you have your facts right. Don’t be too hasty in setting things right lest you make things worse.

4. Don’t stray from the truth

In the aftermath of a brand crisis, what you say next is critical. Don’t come into conclusions without being fully certain of what’s happening. Sometimes, it’s better to hold your peace than say something that may be proven false later on. A false statement, no matter how naïve, will be taken against you in the long run.

5. Try to look good in the process

The principles of PR require you to make your brand look good, regardless of the circumstances. Even when you’re admitting to a mistake, make sure your audience can still sympathize with you.

6. Act on the problem fast

The first few hours following a crisis can make all the difference between salvation and ruin. If you don’t nip the problem right in the bud, it will blossom into a full-fledged nightmare. Stop the story at the source before different versions of it emerge.

A Final Note: Developing a Robust PR Strategy

For you to develop a PR strategy that works, you need to apply some of the industry’s proven practices. First, always have an ear online. Don’t underestimate the impact of social listening. Also, learn to harness the power of search engine optimization (SEO) to increase your appeal to the media.

But most of all, to maintain a good brand reputation, you need to build genuine relationships with your customers. When you have a solid and loyal client base, you can expect your followers to do all the PR work for you—and for free!

Resources:

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Crawford, James. “5 Public Relation Rules for the Social Media Age.” Open Forum. June 11, 2012. www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/5-public-relations-rules-for-the-social-media-age

Dyer, Pam. “50 Top Tools for Social Media Monitoring, Analytics, and Management.” Social Media Today. May 13, 2013. www.socialmediatoday.com/content/50-top-tools-social-media-monitoring-analytics-and-management

Elliott, Stuart. “Redefining Public Relations in the Age of Social Media.” New York Times. November 20, 2011. www.nytimes.com/2011/11/21/business/media/redefining-public-relations-in-the-age-of-social-media.html

Ng, Cheryl. “Public Relations in the Social Media Age.” Singapore Management University. September 28, 2016. www.smu.edu.sg/perspectives/2016/09/28/pr-social-media-age

Rahman, Ehtesham. “Public Relations in the Age of Social Media.” Linked In. September 3, 2015. www.linkedin.com/pulse/public-relations-age-social-media-ehtesham-rahman

Sen, Uttoran. “50 Ways Social media Can Destroy Your Business.” Kissmetrics. n.d. blog.kissmetrics.com/social-media-can-destroy

Shane, Carl. “In the Age of Social Media, Why PR Should Matter to Businesses, Both Small and Large.” Huffington Post. June 6, 2013. www.huffingtonpost.com/cari-shane-parven/in-the-age-of-social-medi_b_3381335.html

Smith, Kalen. “PR Crisis Management Tips in the Ages of Social Media.” Under 30 CEO. n.d. under30ceo.com/pr-crisis-management-tips-in-the-age-of-social-media

Smith, Kit. “Marketing: Developing a PR Strategy to Match the Speed of Social.” Brandwatch. March 10, 2016. www.brandwatch.com/blog/pr-strategy-speed-of-social

Matthews, Laura. “Social Media and the Evolution of Corporate Communications.” 2010. www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/02matthewsejspring10.pdf