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How to turn your social media crisis into PR success

Social crisis
By Avinash Nair, digital marketer at E2M

Social media offers unique marketing and PR opportunities. However, it also comes with a distinct drawback. As much as social media followers love to praise a brand, they won’t hesitate to criticize a brand’s actions if they have a good reason. One negative comment can attract thousands of tweets and reactions, turning that single comment into a full-blown PR crisis with the potential to bring marketing and branding strategy to its knees in just a few hours.

When a PR crisis hits, confusion, anxiety, and chaos can shake up an organization. Unfortunately, no one knows when a PR disaster is going to happen. However, being prepared will ensure that when a crisis occurs the fire can be put out before it spreads. In fact, a brand crisis can turn into PR success by acting swiftly.

Here are three tips to turn a social media crisis into a PR win.

Address the issue clearly and quickly

Identify exactly where and how the crisis started. Real-time monitoring is key to successfully handling a PR crisis.

In April, United Airlines came under fire for forcefully removing a passenger from an overbooked flight. A video of the incident went viral on social media. United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the incident on social media, but his apology not only came too late, it didn’t strike the right tone.



Instead of apologizing for humiliating the passenger, Munoz apologized for the inconvenience caused to other passengers. As a result, the company and Munoz both came under intense criticism. Munoz had to apologize again.

All of this happened because the airline ignored the gravity of the situation and didn’t anticipate consumer reaction. It is necessary to understand a crisis thoroughly to ensure a timely and correct response.



Jump into the conversation

Whenever a PR crisis hits social media, people start commenting on the topic immediately. While most brands try to make the conservation disappear, it is better to join the discussion and try to turn the tone of the conversation to reflect more positively on the brand.

GitLab, a startup with $25 million in funding, suffered a major PR embarrassment when an employee accidentally deleted data from the company’s primary database server. Making matters worse, all attempts to restore the data failed. As a result, the company lost six hours of database data, including issues, merge requests, users, comments, and snippets.

Fortunately, the GitLab team had already rolled out a crisis management team. They took the initiative to inform clients of the crisis before social medial started overflowing with negative tweets and comments. GitLab gave a detailed account of what happened and how they planned to fix the problem.

However, the problem wasn’t going to be so easily fixed. The GitLab staff decided to rope in the professional community for help and shared a Google Doc with live notes, live YouTube video streams, and formulated #HugOps to cover social media. This strategy turned GitLab’s crisis into a challenge for fellow community members.

The company even published a blog post explaining what happened to the developer responsible for the crisis, who gained notoriety on social media as “team-member-1.” Instead of denying wrongdoing or ignoring the issue, GitLab treated this disaster as an opportunity to connect with customers as well as employees.



Communicate with internal stakeholders

More often than not, all efforts are focused on creating a comprehensive strategy to communicate with external stakeholders when a PR crisis hits. However, turning a social media disaster into a PR win also depends on effective communication with internal stakeholders, including employees, influencers, and partner brands.

Irrespective of the magnitude of the crisis, a few quick changes to marketing strategy, work policies, communication channels, and even management may be needed to mitigate damage to a brand’s reputation. Ensuring all company stakeholders are prepared to handle these changes is also critical. Having a clear-cut internal communications strategy is critical to your organization’s survival.

Share the brand’s side of the story with each stakeholder. However, make sure internal dialogue is consistent with external communications. Stick to an honest and detailed account of the developments. The most important message is that the brand leaders are leaving no stone unturned to remedy the situation, and that things will be back to normal soon. Transparent communication also establishes a sense of trust among internal stakeholders, facilitates team work, and can prevent mistakes that may aggravate the situation further.


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