Tuesday, 21st November 2017

How to handle a PR crisis in a digital world

It’s no surprise that in recent years as social media has become increasingly mainstream, the PR industry has taken a new digital perspective. Gone are the days where you had to switch on the television, or buy your local newspaper to be updated on the latest headlines. Nowadays you can easily scroll through your Twitter feed to see the latest updates instantly.

The public often hold the power now when it comes to breaking news online.  They can simply upload a status, photo or even stream events live on to their social media pages as they unfold, before traditional news providers have had a chance. This however, can have devastating consequences for companies if it goes wrong. Which leads me on to the main point of this blog, just how do you handle a PR crisis in a digital world?

A PR crisis occurs when a company or brand comes under sharp focus of the media and public, in a way that can be damaging to their reputation.

In the past there were four stages of a crisis:

The Golden Hour – When only you knew about the crisis and had the potential to lead it in a positive light.

The Unfolding Stage – Everyone knows about the crisis and they are waiting to see how you deal with it.

The blame stage – Who to blame?

The recovery stage – How you come back from this negative situation.  

Since the rise of social media this has all changed. In the future, we can actually look back at history for some guidance – Newton’s Third Law said: “For every action there is an opposite, and equal reaction.” This can be applied to the digital age according to Steve Dunne PRCA: “For every action your brand takes, there is an opposite reaction on-line.”

The first step is to try to avoid the crisis happening in the first place and although not always possible, there are rules you can stick to that can help. The main one is that you should never try to promote your brand/products in relation to a tragedy and always check and double check your scheduled content.

An example of this is when digital food brand Epicurious sent out tweets in relation to the Boston Bombings back in 2013:

As you can see, although Epicurious did send out a post apologising sometime after the insensitive tweets. People had been angered by their actions and they expressed this on Twitter, which in turn led to a comment explosion. Instead of calming the situation – it actually fuelled the fire.

This leads me on to the next rule – “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.” – Muhammad Ali.

An example of this is back in 2013 when the Paris attacks happened. Instead of Amazon commenting on this tragedy, they instead replaced all of the products on their homepage with the French flag to show solidarity and respect.



The third rule is to watch out for the hackers. Although there is no way to ensure hackers cannot get in to your social media accounts, a step you can take to prevent it is to change your passwords regularly. Also, if you save passwords on your devices ensure the document is protected. Here is an example of what can happen if accounts get hacked:


So now we’ve discussed what a PR Crisis is and some basic rules that can be applied to prevent them occurring, let’s explore how to prepare for a digital crisis.

It’s essential that you conduct a digital communications audit. You should ensure that you have a team either in house or outsourced at an agency, that is solely responsible for your social media. They should follow strict social media procedures, to ensure everyone is on the ball when it comes to portraying your brand/company online.

Building a following or a brand tribe is also extremely beneficial when it comes to a crisis. Your brand tribe will speak up and as they are capable of collective action, they can have positive implications for your business. In some instances, your brand tribe can even handle the crisis for you.

You should always be vigilant. Listen to the media and also track your coverage both on and offline, using keywords and hashtags. By doing this, you can keep an eye on how your brand is being perceived.

Plan for scenarios. When responding to a crisis, it’s essential that you get the tone right. You should always use colloquial language and if appropriate try and mirror the language of the audience. Never be defensive. Always try and take the dialogue offline if someone has a specific problem.

Now we have discussed the steps you should follow to handle a PR Crisis in a digital world, you can take them away and see how they can be applied to your brand or company, should you ever need to use them.  

If you would like to discuss support with your PR or digital communications, then do not hesitate to contact us at NC Creative. 

Jade Thompson

Add a comment


Thank you for your contribution

Your comment will appear on the site once approved.

Sorry something has happen! Please try again.

Back to blog