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The Road to Redemption: Leveraging Social Media To Recover From PR Crises

Oct 10, 2023 | Blog, Do You Know | 0 comments

Last year, a major airline faced a public relations crisis when a video surfaced showing an airport crew roughly handling musical instruments belonging to a popular band. The footage went viral on social media, and the airline was flooded with complaints and negative publicity. To repair reputation of the airline, the CEO quickly posted a video apology on the company’s social channels. He took responsibility, promised to make things right with the band, and outlined new employee training initiatives focused on improving customer service.

This crisis exemplifies how social media can be used to help companies rebuild public trust after mistakes. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow brands to communicate authenticallyown their errors, and demonstrate commitment to improvement. This article will explore some best practices around leveraging social media to repair a company’s reputation during and after crises.

1. Be transparent and honest

When facing public backlash, brands must resist the instinct to hide problems or shift blame. Instead, the most vital step is to be sincere, transparent, and accountable. Admit fault where it exists and avoid speculating or making excuses. For example, in the recent controversy around its unauthorized sharing of user data, Facebook quickly issued an apology and outlined how it would change its practices going forward.

Next, use social media proactively to tell the full story. Share findings from internal investigations openly and completely, without sugarcoating facts. Detail the timeline of events, problems that occurred, and causes.

Finally, do not try to cover up mistakes or defend the indefensible. Continuing denials in the face of clear evidence only extends reputational damage. Brands that sincerely own their errors are more likely to be forgiven.

2. Engage in two-way communication

Crises fuel massive amounts of comments and conversations about brands on social platforms. It’s vital for companies to actively participate in these discussions rather than remain silent.

First, respond promptly to feedback and concerns, no matter how negative. Delete or ignoring inflammatory comments often makes things worse, while responding with empathy and accountability conveys listening and caring.

Second, maintain a continuous dialogue with critics. Don’t provide a single apology and then disengage—keep addressing issues transparently. Consider going live on platforms like Facebook and taking impromptu questions.

Third, position the company as open and receptive to input. Social media allows brands to have authentic conversations at scale. Demonstrate that the company values feedback and will take it seriously moving forward through words and actions.

Overall, the goal is to humanize the brand and show earnest commitment to improvement. Social platforms make it possible to maintain an ongoing dialogue, strengthen relationships, and demonstrate the company is making changes based on the voices of others.

3. Share company values and culture

During controversies, it’s important to look beyond the crisis and spotlight the people and values that make up a company.

First, feature employees prominently on social channels, showing their faces and telling their stories. This puts a human face on the brand. Highlight workers of all levels, not just executives.

Next, draw attention to company-sponsored community initiatives and partnerships with nonprofits. Show how business priorities extend beyond profits to social impact and supporting local communities.

Additionally, create content that gives an authentic inside look at company culture. Share photos of employee events, videos of workers discussing their jobs, and testimonials reviewing the workplace.

The goal is to demonstrate the human side of the brand. Even large multinational companies are ultimately composed of real people. Social media provides a platform to share stories and culture that break stereotypes and enable empathy. This wider lens beyond short-term controversies can help reputations recover.

4. Repair relationships with influencers

During any reputation crisis, identify key voices and influencers speaking out against the company. These might include celebrities, subject experts, or social media personalities with large audiences.

Rather than viewing them as enemies, see them as relationships that need repair. Reach out directly and humbly request an opportunity to talk. Offer transparency by providing more information and addressing their major concerns.

If possible, meet with influencers one-on-one and have an authentic conversation about making things right. This can subtly shift their perspective and future commentary to be more understanding.

In public communications, acknowledge and affirm influencers who offer thoughtful criticism. Thank them for holding the company accountable. Platforms like Twitter enable these exchanges.

Finally, follow up by updating influential voices on progress being made on improvements. Continuing the dialogue reinforces that their voice was heard and valued.

With effort, former critics can transform into key partners in reputation repair. By restoring damaged relationships, influencers become invested in spreading the word of positive change.

5. Monitor and optimize

Once a reputation recovery campaign is underway, brands must closely track effectiveness and iterate.

Start by analyzing which messages and platforms seem most resonant. Are certain content formats or tonality better received? Which social sites generate greater engagement and reach?

Look to amplify what’s working well. Double down on social formats and narratives seeing traction. Repurpose popular content across platforms.

Also, identify ineffective elements to eliminate. Stop activities that lack engagement or feel inauthentic. Let data guide refinement.

Continuously gather social listening insights to guide strategy. Look beyond vanity metrics and focus on nuanced indicators of shifting perceptions.

Be ready to change course based on learnings and feedback. The social landscape moves quickly. Real-time optimization is key.

With constant monitoring and improvement, brands can ensure social efforts maintain relevance. The goal is to sustain momentum for long-term reputation rebuilding, not just temporary relief.

6. Case study examples

Looking at real-world examples can illustrate how brands have successfully leveraged social media to recover from crises:

  • Johnson & Johnson took major steps to reform after its 1982 Tylenol poisoning scandal, including new product safety measures and transparent advertising. When another scare happened in 1986, the company addressed it immediately on the media. Their competence and care for consumers helped restore public trust.
  • When a racist incident occurred at Starbucks in 2018, the company apologized unequivocally. CEO Kevin Johnson then held an open meeting streamed live discussing actions to fight discrimination. Instead of defending itself, Starbucks owned its mistakes and demonstrated a commitment to progress.

These cases demonstrate how being transparentlistening to feedback, and focusing on authentic communication – not PR spin – enabled brands to rebuild connections. Social media allows companies to have ongoing dialogue at scale during crises.

Article you might be intrested in: Social Selling: The Future of Driving Leads and Sales Through Social Media


In summary, social media presents a powerful opportunity for brands to repair their reputations if leveraged authentically. Owning mistakes, engaging in dialogue, and demonstrating a values-driven culture enables companies to rebuild trust during and after crises. When brands focus on transparency and listening, they can turn customers into advocates once again.

Should a company in crisis hire a social media specialist to manage reputation repair?

While outside experts can help, the communication must come directly from company leadership to feel authentic. Founders and executives should be actively involved in social media engagement and transparency efforts.

How quickly must a company respond on social media when a crisis hits?

The sooner the better. Quick, sincere responses show accountability and care for consumers. Ideally within the first few hours, though ongoing engagement is also important.

What if a crisis was caused by malicious intent from an employee or hacker?

Admit what happened transparently, but re-emphasize that bad actors do not represent company values. Detail internal changes so such breaches cannot recur.

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