We all know by now that COVID-19 was unprecedented, and it opened our eyes to some harsh realities.
One of those realities was exactly how much users depend on social media for fast and up to date information… especially in a crisis.
People didn’t know exactly where to turn to find out about COVID safety measures, whether a business was open, or whether standard services still were offered. And consistently, time and time again, they turned to social media, where brands posted messages encouraging people to be safe and letting them know how the business would be changing.
This is a shining example of how PR and social media management are so intertwined now, and it’s definitely not the only one.
In this post, we’re going to look at how PR and social media management are connected and how students can excel at this part of the job to stand out from other social media managers and keep their brand ahead of their competition.
Why Social Media is The First Line of Defense for PR
Conventionally in the good ole days, you’d have PR firms release press releases and official statements during a crisis; that’s where consumers and investors looked for information, and it wasn’t always necessary to issue something immediately. Now, people pressure brands and watch with an eagle-eye for a social media response. If your brand is silent during a crisis, or doesn’t release a response in a timely manner, you’re likely to lose customer support or goodwill.
Social media is now the hub of customer service, selling, and PR all while still being “authentic” in the eyes of a brand’s loyal customers.
It’s more important to act quickly on your social media accounts to handle PR than it is to get the information onto your website in some cases, especially because this is where people will turn first. It will also have the most visibility.
When handling PR in a crisis, social media acts as your first line of defense, and what you put out on social is definitely public and considered official. So as a social media marketer, it’s essential to take this step seriously; when you’re working with a brand, a misstep could seriously hurt their PR, so you need to know what to do. Silence is not an option.
How Social Media Marketers Can Excel in PR
Social media marketers can follow these seven steps to help their clients in the PR sphere.
1. Allow Brands to Approve All Content
At least giving them the option covers your bases, so they can get a chance to review it and even send it to a lawyer or official PR department if needed before it goes live.
As the person handling at least some PR as it relates to social media management, consider it your job to create a nimble workflow that allows all the brand’s decision makers to give their input and approvals in a timely manner, without allowing too many cooks into your social media kitchen. Third-party scheduling tools can help with this.
2. Consult with the Brand During a Crisis
In the early days of social media as a valid and essential PR tool, brands could claim a bit of ignorance in their power. But by now you should know exactly how you can respond, or if you should.
In fact, discussing this in advance before any crisis ever emerges is the best call; you can add PR department to your team’s social media management tool and assign them all messages or comments related to an incident. Be sure there are strict alerts and deadlines attached to the conversation so everyone involved understands the time crunch.
3. Stick to Branded Language
This goes for everything related to PR and social media management, but especially in the middle of a crisis. Know how the brand describes their products, and what language you can and can’t use to prevent a PR crisis. Make sure your communications manual is up to date regarding language around disability, ethnicity, and other timely topics. If your brand is international, how might that language change based on its primary audience?
4. Be Ready for Different Types of PR Posts
If you’re a social media marketer who works for extensive brands, consider having a few basic formulas ready to go for different types of situations. Look at other examples of apology and announcement posts (some are outlined below) and why you think one or the other might be best in different kinds of situations or for different brands.
Don’t, however, be afraid to hand this over to the brand’s lawyer or PR department when necessary, but they’ll still be thankful for your branded templates to ensure consistency in the messaging. And since many small businesses don’t have a PR department or lawyer, making the right call and knowing all the nuances to consider might be up to you.
For instance, if the company had to fire someone after a public incident, you might have a template handy like this:
“We were deeply regretful to hear of the (customer’s) experience at our shop last week. The employee in question (for action) has been terminated. Their actions did not reflect the way we choose to do business or our values, and we hope to prove that moving forward.”
Going a step further to explain how the company will work with employees so that another incident doesn’t happen is even better. Customers want to know that any consequences are not just punitive but also can be reflective and restorative for a brand.
5. Take Social Engagement & Listening Seriously
If social media engagement and community-building is part of your agreed-upon contract, don’t sleep on the job. Thanks to social media’s lightning-fast speed, sometimes a crisis will break on Twitter hours or even days before it makes the news. Be sure you have the proper alerts set up so that you can see a crisis coming and anticipate the response.
This could be your chance to help a brand get out ahead or even resolve issues before they blow up into a full crisis. Along with understanding the external factors that can affect your social media feeds, stay on top of your own interactions and shares to understand how people view your brand. This can allow you to see trends in negative experiences and nip an issue in the bud, as it were.
6. Focus On Generating Positive PR
As their social media manager, you can do a lot to help a business improve its reputation. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to get and stay involved in the community of your industry or local needs.
You can link to fundraisers in the community that the brand may support or look for opportunities to share the brand’s values in content.
It’s good to have a pre-approved list of influencers or other brands whose content your supervisors allow you to share freely. Set alerts for the friendly brands’ posts so you can help spread the good word in a timely fashion.
7. Keep the Most Recent Protocol Pinned to the Top of Your Feed
Don’t make your customers search to learn your safety procedures. It used to be that if you made someone click more than three or four links, you lost them before they made a reservation, a purchase, or signed up. Now it’s more like one to two clicks at the most. If you bury some of the most important information that people need to use your brand, they’ll lose time and interest before you catch them.
Put all your information on COVID procedures or other safety measures front and center: pinned to your feed, obvious in your photos, near the ticketing page for every event and in every marketing email. Update it as needed, but potential customers are much more likely to engage with your brand if they know your expectations.
3 Examples of PR & Social Media Posts to Draw Inspiration From
Let’s take a look at three examples of how real brands used social media for PR purposes and what they did well.
1. Farmgirl Flowers
When California favorite Farmgirl Flowers found they were at least 1,000 orders behind, and right before the Thanksgiving holiday, they took a simple and effective tactic. Their Instagram account showed the situation, their caption was incredibly honest and straightforward. It explains why the situation happened and how they’ll resolve their backorders, apologizes, and encourages customers to reach out to them for a speedy resolution.
This kind of post doesn’t make your brand look unprofessional; it shows that you care so much about fulfilling orders and keeping your customers happy that you’re communicating directly to the 1,000 people whose orders are behind versus counting on the goodwill of the “tens of thousands of bouquets” that were shipped on time. Get out in front of complaints and just let people know what’s going on.
Bonus for Farmgirl Flowers: they also acknowledge the hard work of the shipping carriers and that many people have worse problems than their bouquet not arriving on time. Their tone was able to convey all of this without diminishing anyone’s struggles or the fact that for some people during this crisis, flowers not arriving on time can be a huge issue too!
Respawn Entertainment is responsible for some high-level IP games, so any disturbance in gameplay will be noticed nearly immediately. Their Twitter feed always has very up to date information on what the problem is, how they’re working hard to fix it, exactly what they’re doing to help the situation, and an estimated time that their consumers can expect normal gameplay to resume. They are not only very honest, but are careful to use threaded Tweets so that any updates to a specific issue can be found quickly.
Another great part of their Twitter feed is how well they know their audience.
They probably had similar messaging on Reddit and the multiple forums dedicated to their games, and they never talked down to any of the gamers in their community. They know their consumers talk to each other, and when they have a problem, they make their issues known.
Updates and games news spread like wildfire, and even faster if there are complaints. Get out in front of these conversations so people know you are not only trying to make it work, but you know how much people care, and you care about your people.
The Starbucks brand has mastered how to be proactive instead of reactive.
During a horrible natural disaster, they don’t waste space with just flowery thoughts and concerns on people’s safety. These sentiments matter, but Starbucks makes a much better PR move by promoting their charity following the hurricane and showing how they can quickly help. Yes, they have a larger charity budget than many brands and an ability to move a decision like this quickly, but even smaller brands could scale down such a move in a way that shows how they can help, and maybe even more importantly, solve the emotional issue of their customers who want to help themselves but aren’t sure how.
- Can’t make a donation? Spread word about resources for those who need help.
- Amplify the voices of those sharing how others can help.
- If your audience involves parents, help them understand ways to talk to their kids about a large-scale tragedy.
PR and social media management are merged for life now.
Whereas consumers and investors might have waited longer to hear from a brand in the time before social media overtook all other channels of communication for the most up to date information, that time is long gone.
Your best bet for the clearest communication possible in a difficult time is to have templates and examples drafted, know the workflow for supervisor approval (and give them deadlines!), and then execute it as simply and compassionately as possible.
If you want to be sure your PR and social media is ready for anything, have a look at our Social Media Marketing Intensive Course that helps you gather the information you need to brand any kind of crisis communication in the best way.