Impact of Social Media on Public Relations During Times of Crisis

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With 72% of Americans using some type of social media, according to Pew Research Center, social media platforms serve a multifaceted role that can be a boon or bust for an organization’s public relations efforts. Effective use of social media sites requires responsibility and carefully nuanced messaging that’s not only appropriate for the product or service but also fits the present cultural environment.

A social media manager collaborates with a colleague

Social media platforms provide a cost-effective way to stay in front of current and prospective customers and engage with them regularly on a personal level. These platforms also help to position a brand’s product or service within its industry and share its values and mission.

Organizations can benefit further by considering the impact of social media on public relations in times of crisis. During periods of racial or political division, cultural conflict, or general unrest, social media can be used to advocate for a cause or take a stance on a topic that relates to a company’s mission. Marketing, communication, or public relations professionals interested in further developing their skills in social media communication may want to consider a master’s in strategic communication and leadership.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

Social media is tailored to evoke an emotional response. Successful social media efforts seek to connect personally with users and elicit emotions that urge them to share posts with others. Branded content with a strong emotional component improves engagement rates and social sharing, according to 1marketingidea. As a result, social media represents one of the more effective ways to boost brand awareness, build trust, and entice customers to buy.

Many of the most successful social media campaigns incorporate emotional intelligence, also called emotional quotient (EQ). Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and control one’s own emotions and adjust — typically with empathy — to emotions expressed by others. A widely recognized trait among effective leaders, emotional intelligence is associated with tone, honesty, and integrity.

Professionals can use emotional intelligence in their social media marketing by listening to their audience, expressing empathy, telling a story, and extending help to customers, according to marketing software vendor Vidooly.

Those in public relations roles who don’t use an emotionally intelligent approach can see their positive efforts erode and possibly reap damaging results. Flippant posts to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can spur public backlash and negative effects. Ill-conceived social media campaigns on TikTok, YouTube, and other outlets easily can be misconstrued. These negative impacts of social media on public relations can alienate an organization’s fans and scar its brand.

Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

Because so much is at stake, social media campaigns benefit by being proactively managed by public relations professionals, particularly during times of crisis. Exhibiting emotional intelligence helps to show authenticity and empathy when the world is in upheaval.

Professionals in this field can quickly gauge the effectiveness of a social media campaign, as opposed to traditional campaigns. Because they’re so agile, social media platforms deliver near-real-time results as followers react to a new post.

Social media posts, due to their inherent accessibility and visibility, have become the face of an organization and serve as a window for the public to witness how well customer service issues are managed. Rather than reaching out to customer service representatives directly, consumers tend to air their grievances publicly through social media. If these grievances are left unattended, an organization can experience negative consequences or brand erosion. Reputation management is a key focus for brands building trust. Thankfully, sometimes fervent fans step in to stick up for an organization and quickly set naysayers straight.

Social Media in Times of Crisis

In times of crisis, tone and timing play a big part in properly managing the impact of social media on public relations. Users turn to social media to express their views on a variety of topics and advocate for what matters most to them. Consumers bond with brands and buy products and services that align with their beliefs and lifestyles. Strategically, those in communication, public relations, and social media roles should exercise caution when considering chiming in on charged topics unless they’ve previously established their customers’ stance on those issues.

Get Leadership Buy-In

While some professionals in communication and public relations positions function independently, knowing how higher-ups at an organization feel about certain topics and whether they want their companies to become part of the conversation on social media is crucial.

Organizations new to addressing volatile topics through social media would benefit from getting internal buy-in from leadership before posting about them, according to Maryville University’s Dr. Dustin York. “If you’re new to social media and you’re not sure what to do, ask your boss,” he says in Maryville Online’s Instagram TV session, “Social and Brand Management During Tough Times.”

Preparing ahead of time helps to save time and potential aggravation when a crisis erupts. Organizations should have style and brand guidelines to help them determine, “What do we say in this situation?” according to York.

Find Balance

Character traits such as humility, compassion, and empathy have a place in effective public relations on social media. Amid civil unrest, successful corporate communication strategies call for professionals to set aside the ubiquitous hard-sell messaging in favor of more appropriate posts that empathize with the current environment.

During times of crisis, admitting to not having all the answers while offering empathy helps organizations connect with others, according to York. “Today’s biggest challenge is balancing currency — staying current with what’s happening — with empathy,” he says. “You need to know when to speed up, when to slow down, when to simply listen to people, and when to talk.”

Learn How to Navigate the Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

Armed with the right message at the right time, professionals working in marketing and public relations can better navigate social media platforms, advocate for their organization’s values, and pave the way for positive engagement with followers. Knowing which causes and issues their target audience is passionate about helps an organization deepen connections and spur engagement.

Whether during business as usual or a time of crisis, public relations professionals well-versed in emotional intelligence and already engaged in advocacy more successfully navigate social media and enjoy a stronger relationship with customers.

Discover how Maryville University’s online master’s in strategic communication and leadership program and its concentration in Emerging and Digital Media can help you excel in an increasingly digital communication landscape. Courses cover areas such as crisis management, digital media campaigns, integrated marketing communication, and digital analytics.

Recommended Reading

Crisis Communication Tips for PR Professionals

Effective Business Communication for Millennials & Gen Z

Careers in Corporate Connection: Strategic Communication vs. Public Relations

Sources

1marketingidea, “Social Media and Emotional Intelligence: 5 Secrets to Increase Your Post Engagement”

5W Public Relations, “5 Ways Social Media Has Changed Public Relations”

CO, “6 Ways Social Media Can Help You Connect with Your Customers During a Crisis”

Forbes, “How Emotional Intelligence Can Impact Your Marketing Strategy”

Instagram, Maryville Online, “Social and Brand Management During Tough Times”

Pew Research Center, “Activism on Social Media Varies by Race and Ethnicity, Age, Political Party”

Pew Research Center, Social Media Fact Sheet

PR Daily, “Trust Crisis: 5 Changes You Must Embrace for 2021”

Vidooly, “Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Social Media Marketing?”