How to use PR and social media during crises

These strategies should work in tandem when a firestorm hits your organization. When used properly, your reputation can bounce back more quickly.

Since the induction of the new administration, brands have quickly realized that a single tweet from the commander-in-chief can impact their stock.

General Motors, Lockheed Martin and now Nordstrom have all been subject to criticism—and for better or worse, their share value fell for a time.

We’ve watched several companies over the last few months learn this lesson the hard way. When the new immigration restrictions were announced, Uber learned its lesson through a series of missteps and communication lags, whereas main competitor Lyft donated $100 million to the ACLU and became a media darling.

There is bad publicity in not taking action fast enough. In Uber’s case, it led to a loss of customers and its CEO’s leave from the president’s advisory council. Uber made efforts to tell the public and its customers that it would support employees who were potentially subject to the travel ban, but it was too late.

Related: What Businesses Can Learn from #DeleteUber

Our point? Silence or poor communication timing can cost your brand more than just customers; it can cost you your reputation and image.

Leaders (that’s you) must prepare for a new kind of market, where your brand will be scrutinized on everything, including your associations. This is why organizations and their leaders must have a go-to strategy prepared in their back pockets in the event that customers and the community raise any concerns.

Luckily, there are two cornerstones of your business that can play an integral part here: public relations and social media marketing. Though distinctions between the two are far reaching, they are also complementary. These combined platforms play a major supporting role in the time of a crisis.

Related: 7 Steps for Maintaining Your Composure in Times of Crisis

1. Crisis management begins before there is an issue.

With activism burgeoning at the forefront of company priorities, consumers are looking to organizations to ensure they follow a similar set of ethos.

As of late, organizations are stepping forward and stating where they stand on divisive issues, putting a stake in the ground around topics of company policy and corporate responsibility. Why? Customers base their buying behavior on what a company supports or doesn’t support—not on silence.

This is where social media helps companies tap into crucial conversations and connect with their existing and potential customers in a meaningful way.

Because social media interactions typically occur in a public forum, your followers are the first to know about what you are backing and how exactly this is done. Whether it’s through an announcement to support a cause, a donation to a particular charity or a campaign to raise awareness for a particular organization, your audience will respect your brand’s active stance on key issues.

This this kind of goodwill is welcome, but it’s not enough for a PR team to work with. Saying, “Hey! We are doing this fantastic thing” appears self-serving and tacky—and it can backfire.

Instead, work with your PR team to iron out specific messaging and a narrative on the topic. Should questions come up, both teams will have aligned answers for their customers (and for members of the news media).

Related: 4 Hallmarks of Leadership in a Time of Crisis

It is also important to be aware of and eliminate blind spots.

If your company has vulnerabilities, inform PR pros so they can support you by determining how to discuss the issue. If your PR team has been working hard on maintaining your relationship with reporters, then those reporters will be your lifeline when you need to manage public perception.

On the other hand, if they are working in the dark and unaware of your vulnerabilities, when a problem comes up, they might not be able to react as quickly as you require—which will only hurt your company.

2. When a problem hits, the first place you might hear about it is online.

Once your messaging is in place, you can use social media to help your customers better understand your position.

By leveraging the ability to have real-time conversations with your community, you can mitigate issues early on by addressing it through individual interactions (e.g. comments and direct messages) and through posted public announcements on your social platforms.

This way, you maintain control of your message, address customer concerns as they come in and foster vital conversations among your community that will enable them to advocate for your brand.

If the issue can potentially move beyond your customer universe and into mainstream media, it is time to consider PR and decide the next step. You must be agile and switch directions as fast as the news cycle.

Public relations will serve as a lifeline, to clarify or explain things to your customers and the public. For instance, if you messed up, acknowledge it and disclose how you are working to solve the issue.

Business leaders should always be prepared to manage a crisis, so when it emerges there is a swift and deliberate action plan in place. During a crisis, reaction speed and tactics can run as the principal decision makers for patrons.

Related: Why Big Businesses Must Proactively Manage Their Online Reputations

3. Speed shouldn’t replace overall strategy.

An organization’s reaction time increases when you have a proactive PR plan working to establish your message with customers and the public.

In order for brand managers to mitigate potential negative public sentiment and sooth any push back from customers, it is crucial to have a well-balanced, collaborative crisis communications strategy.

PR and social media must work in tandem in order to cultivate a 360-degree plan of action that’ll help insulate your brand and maintain control over your brand message. By combining forces across all of your media channels, you will ensure that your business will ready to tackle anything that may arise.

Andrea Holland and Sarah Elder are co-founders of PR Traction. A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur. Copyright © 2017 Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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