social media crisis public relations

Social media has forever changed how people stay in touch with each other and get updates on each other’s lives. With a scroll and a click, people reminisce on their past, see what old friends are up to now and even dig into the seemingly scandalous personal lives of A-list celebrities.

Because of its soaring popularity, many brands turn to social media to help with marketing and public relations efforts. However, increasingly, brands also use social media as part of their crisis communications plan.

Love/Hate Relationship with Citizen Journalists

In the past, journalists either went to school to learn how to investigate and report on issues, or they learned through years of experience. However, in today’s day and age, virtually anyone can publish their own reports and editorials on what matters to them.

As a direct result, not only do incidents make it to the media immediately, but it spreads like wildfire, and we watch it happening in real-time. This makes it difficult to keep bad press under wraps when problems arise and often makes issues look far worse than they actually are. Even one post from a disgruntled customer in the middle of nowhere could hold a spot in the limelight for months to come.

However, in times of recovering from crises, these very features about social media make it a constant help. Through social media, users can share information, garner awareness and raise money for victims affected by a crisis. Social media ambassadors can also “lobby” on their client’s behalf, injecting a different perspective and help save their good image.

Staying On Top of New Developments

Sometimes though, crises do not originate with a brand or come from any fault of its employees. Instead, the crisis may originate from external factors, like poor weather, oil spills or a supplier failing to meet inspection criteria. For this reason, brands should be attentive and understand the elements of a crisis before customers and media outlets do.

Planning ahead for a crisis allows companies to meet it head on when it strikes. By being the first to share the bad news, many companies also prevent the likelihood of looking like a guilty accomplice.

It can also help customers to prepare for the repercussions of crises like bad weather where an event should take place, or oil spills moving towards the beach at a hotel near where they planned to vacation. This may lead to a feeling of gratitude and increased loyalty towards the company.

Remaining as the Key Source

During a crisis, along with citizen journalists, many others news outlets and brands will lend their voice to the issue at hand. However, to maintain control of the information, as best as possible, brands should use social media and their own website when possible to remain the key source of information.

This means staying transparent and sharing updates as things happen. Doing so increases the likelihood that customers and the public will turn to the brand directly for information, rather than rely on the more sensational stories that other sources may weave.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.