If you're in business long enough, you'll almost certainly go through a PR crisis — it's a simple fact. Businesses, after all, are run by humans, and humans aren't infallible. Big or small — something is going to happen that looks worse than you'd like.
There are many strategies for leading your company out of crisis mode, and we see big brands work through those every day. Executives are getting very handy at facing the internet pitchfork mob that accompanies mess-ups in the digital age.
But I still think they're missing one thing that would be of infinite value: influencers.
Where Influencers and PR Meet
According to one study, 90 percent of respondents make purchases after seeing social media content. In fact, one-third of them trust social media influencers more than any other source — even friends and family.
This is particularly true for Millennials and members of Generation Z, who see their favorite influencers as trusted confidantes, even though they've likely never met. These young people may breeze right past a brand's apology statement in a press release, but they will sit up and listen when their favorite influencers stick by brands they admire.
This is why influencer marketing is so good for your brand during a PR crisis. With powerful influencers on your side, you can weather any storm.
Building an Honest, Trustworthy Partnership
Not all influencer partnerships are created equal. When they're purely transactional in nature, for example, influencers won't have any reason to stick around when things go south. When they're built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, however, your influencers may be your best asset during a crisis.
Here's how to lay that foundation:
- Don't count out the little guy (or gal).
On one level, it makes sense to go after the influencers with the biggest audiences — you're trying to get your name out there. But it's important to ask yourself whether it will get to the right people? If you have a pretty niche audience, chances are slim.
On the other hand, according to Markerly, influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers receive more likes and engagement per follower than those with higher counts. It makes sense. For a young consumer, a big celebrity can sometimes feel "unreachable," whereas a local food blogger feels more like a peer. In that vein, in the event of a PR crisis, micro-influencers' more engaged audiences will be more willing to hear them plead your case than the sweeping audience of a celebrity.
Our newest offering, Ripple, helps brands better connect with such influencers. Let's say you're looking to pair up with a beauty blogger; our database can cross-check a list of micro- and macro-influencers to determine who has the most engaged audience in your market.
- Find the connection point.
Forging a lasting relationship with an influencer involves more than simply choosing between a social celebrity and micro-influencer, though. It's absolutely crucial to understand who will connect with your audience members — that, after all, is the whole point of engaging influencers. Who do they admire? What lifestyles appeal to them, and which influencers are champions of that lifestyle?
Let's say you're a home decor brand. Joanna Gaines seems like a natural choice for a partner, given her extraordinary influence, but does her style match your brand's aesthetic? Does she exhibit what your target market wants to see in home style? If your brand is more modern than farmhouse chic, Joanna may not be the best fit.
And when you choose influencers who are truly invested in your brand story — because it aligns with their own — you'll have a much better chance that they'll come to your rescue when you're in the middle of a PR nightmare.
- Take the long view.
Like a best friend who'll be by your side no matter what, you want to partner with influencers who are in it for more than a quick buck. Short-term campaigns are great for drumming up excitement for a product launch, but employing a long-term strategy over multiple months (or years) will allow you to truly gain the trust of influencers' audiences. That way, when that PR hurricane makes landfall, they'll have your back no matter what.
Part of having a good long-term relationship means relinquishing some control over your influencer's content. Remember: He or she has a brand to build as well, so it's important for the content you create in partnership to marry the two brands expertly. The creative process should be give-and-take. Of course, make suggestions and ensure anything influencers publish is consistent with your brand story, but be willing to hear them out, too!
The world of public relations has always been about building strong relationships — with organizations, journalists, and the public. So it makes sense that influencers would fit in perfectly. After all, their entire business is built upon a good relationship with their audience. Focus on authentic partners who will be with you for the long term, and you have a built-in PR crisis safety net.