How to manage a PR crisis on social media

Social media can be a valuable platform if you are responsible for crisis communications. You can continually monitor what your stakeholders are talking about and how they are feeling so you may be able to spot an issue before it becomes a crisis. But, there will inevitably be times when you can’t and social media can become a liability.

By having a presence on social media, everyone can see what you are doing, whether proactive or reactive. Crisis risks used to be private but now they are very public and the world can see your crisis ‘prevention’ activities.

So how do you manage a crisis risk in public?

Timothy Coombs, Professor of Communications at Texas A&M University shared this advice in a recent webinar hosted by PR Academy:

The basics:

Crisis scanning – Identify early. Find the crisis before it finds you

Crisis monitoring – Keep on top of the debate and where it could be headed next

Crisis responding – Use the platform(s) to get your message out as quickly and responsibly as possible

Social media allows for fast placement of messages, quick adjustments and you can use multiple channels at a low cost to reach as many people as possible. But, an audience’s expectation of how quickly you should respond can be unrealistic and the “jumble of voices” online means you need a well-established social media presence ahead of a crisis so you don’t get lost in the noise.

Ways to respond to challenges on social media:

Refusal – Keep quiet and hope it goes away– not a good idea!

Refutation – Duck, dodge and denyagain, never a good idea

Repression – Try and suppress the sharing of opinions and information relating to the crisis – not a good idea!

Recognition – Recognise the issue/complaint/problem and, when appropriate, accept the challenge. This is a typical response: “we understand”, “we are aware”, “we are working to resolve the issue” – this should be your minimum standard

Revision – Listen and make changes. This can take time so a combination of recognition and revision is sometimes required. The key is to ensure you communicate the changes you have made to your audience and complete the picture for them – aiming a bit higher

Reform – True reform, that is. Essentially, this is a change of core practice within the business that is felt across the organisation – certainly not in all instances. A “storm in a teacup” would never warrant this level of response

Clearly, there are times when social media is an asset and others when it is a liability for the crisis communications professional. The trick, if you can master it, is to get the balance to tip in your favour as often as possible.


Should your next comms campaign be all about influencers?

At a recent conference, a major player in the sports arena shared details of how their communications focus is moving away from targeting traditional media to developing and courting social media influencers.

As the conference was held under Chatham House Rule, I am not allowed to divulge who this information came from – suffice to say it is a major, global brand that is known to everyone (that is no exaggeration).

10 years ago, this brand had lost ground to its main competitor so they had a “brand reset” and created a new overarching comms strategy. A big change was to focus on key markets and expect the rest of the world to follow, rather than trying to communicate with the entire world at once.

One of the four primary roles of their communications team (along with earned PR, owned/paid social and sports/entertainment talent marketing) is now to engage social influencers. And this is where it gets really interesting…


At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, this brand made a bold decision to give 70% of its talent interview opportunities to social influencers and only 30% to traditional media  based on the knowledge that:

  • Traditional media will not talk about the brand; influencers will
  • Influencers have a far greater reach (more than 150million social media followers)
  • Influencers are more integrated with the brand so advocacy is much, much stronger
  • Influencers are easier to work with than traditional media
  • Influencers crave the experiences high profile brands are able to provide for them

…this brand now expects to give 100% of its talent interview opportunities to social influencers at the next Olympics.

So how do they choose which influencers they will engage to deliver their message?

Work with people who are credible and fit with the brand. It’s not just about how many followers they’ve got.

Have you begun introducing social influencer engagement in your communications plans? Will you consider it after reading this?

In-house vs agency PR – bridging the skills gap

I attended a PR Moment training and networking event last night on “Future proofing in-house PR teams”Sarah Ogden, Director of 3 Monkeys Zeno, opened with research from a survey of in-house PR professionals.

Some of the headline results were completely expected, such as “in-house PR teams need to be more integrated across all communications” but an increase of outsourcing media relations and copywriting was a surprise.

Hearteningly, 80.6% of the in-house PR professionals surveyed believe PR is becoming more valued as a business discipline.

Other interesting findings included…

Top 3 priorities of in-house PR teams today:

  1. External copy
  2. Strategy
  3. Social media

Top 3 services required of agencies:

  1. Activation
  2. Strategy
  3. Content

So, while strategy is still absolutely vital for both disciplines, if you want to work in-house, you’d better brush up on your writing and social media skills; if you’d prefer to work in an agency, examples of how you’ve delivered campaigns and developed content will set you in good stead.

Howard Jones, Head of Comms at EE also shared some insight into the skills he feels in-house PR teams need today.  One phrase that really struck a chord with me is this:

Increasingly, in-house PR teams are being used for brand protection, not brand promotion. We are the only ones with the integrity and credibility to protect the brand.

He also said, “there is a huge difference between the skills required for brand activation and crisis comms but we are all trying to deal with both in one team”.

So which skills does he think in-house PR teams need now?

  1. Data (audience targeting and effectiveness)
  2. Measurement (convincing budget holders you’re worth the money)
  3. Social (specifically how to integrate into activities for protection and promotion)
  4. Content (developing multimedia for traditional and social media)

And which skills can’t we afford to leave behind?


Have you noticed a change in the skills required of in-house and agency teams? Let me know in the comments below.

I’ll be posting another blog soon with more great content from this event, focused on how one global brand is moving away from targeting traditional media to developing and courting social media influencers. Watch this space!