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PR and influencer marketing during a brand crisis


Influencer marketing has grown from a $1.7 billion industry in 2016 to $16.4 billion in 2022. So it’s no wonder influencer marketing has become an indispensable part of the business. approach to public relations and crisis management for most brands.

Here are five ways to make PR and influencer marketing work for your brand during a crisis.

1. Rebuild trust in your brand

Data from IZEA shows that 62% of consumers trust influencers more than celebrities. Therefore, in addition to being so instrumental in building your brand, influencers can also help you rebuild the brand by recovering some of the lost trust after a PR crisis.

Starbucks suffered a significant backlash in 2018 when two black men sitting in a store were arrested without probable cause. For the black community, this meant a breach of trust.

Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores to conduct racial bias training. CEO Kevin Johnson also personally apologized to both customers. Starbucks offered to pay for their tuition.

The friendly faces of our Seattle SODO 8 store partners (employees), who helped lead the Black History Month coffee tastings. Photo courtesy of Adrienne Hairston.

Posted by Starbucks on Wednesday, February 27, 2019

It didn’t end there, however. Starbucks has also ramped up its influencer marketing efforts, working with the likes of Jordan Fisher to expand the reach and inclusivity of their campaigns.

With this arsenal of influencers who have promoted Starbucks products and other strokes of genius, the brand has regained the trust of the black community, which now constitutes about 8% of its partners.

2. Help promote your upgraded products

Brand awareness is key, especially for small businesses and emerging brands. Brand awareness is also critical in managing a crisis, especially if it’s the company’s own product that has damaged brand reputation.

Video game maker, CD Projekt Red, suffered an embarrassing PR crisis in 2020 when there were major recalls of its Cyberpunk 2077 game due to bugs. CD Projekt Red had spent nearly 10 years and nearly $300 million developing the game.

The bugs affected consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox One. Sony pulled the game from the PlayStore for nearly six months, and CD Projekt Red returned millions of dollars in refunds to customers. It was a total mess.

Once the game was cleaned up, CD Projekt Red enlisted social media influencers to bring new brand awareness to the upgraded product. His influencers included big-name players such as Alanah Pearce, Cohh Carnage and Jesse Cox.

Since the PR and influencer marketing campaign and its re-release, Cyberpunk 2077 has sold over 18 million copies, with a user score of 7/10 on Metacritic.

3. Steer the conversation away from the crisis

An essential part of PR crisis management is the ability to assess public perception of your brand in real time. Social listening tools like Sprout Social make this possible and effective, so you can take control of a crisis situation before it escalates. When you know what people are saying about you, you can find ways to change the narrative in your favor if necessary.

Coca-Cola knows a thing or two about moving convos away from a crisis. In July 2021, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo snubbed company drinks during a presser for the Euro 2020 competition.

Negative searches for Coca-Cola dominated the internet. Coca-Cola has lost nearly $4 billion in its market valuation.

Immediately after, Coca-Cola launched the “One Coke Away From Each Other” and #RealMagic campaigns, partnering with micro-influencers, gamers and athletes.

With this successful campaign, Coca-Cola was able to quickly divert the conversation from the PR embarrassment they faced just weeks before.

4. Get support for your cause

Influencers can help rally support for your cause which may have been deemed controversial.

In 2018, Nike teamed up with Colin Kaepernick for an ad with the tagline “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”. Prior to the collaboration, Kaepernick, then an American professional soccer player, had received backlash from some Americans after he repeatedly refused to perform for the national anthem in protest against police brutality. He ended up losing his position in the National Football League.

Nike ended up taking some heat for the controversial announcement, but instead of backing down, the brand used influencer marketing to drown out the noise made by the few people who accused Nike of collaborating with someone. one they believed to be anti-American. One of those influencers was Casey Neistat, a famous YouTuber:

Casey’s Tweet in support of the Nike ad garnered over 12,000 retweets and 72,000 likes. It has certainly earned Nike credibility points, cementing its reputation as a brand that stands for what it believes in.

5. Improves search results for your brand

The relationship between search and social media is hard to ignore. When a PR crisis arises, the first inclination for anyone interested is to Google your company/brand name and news. The echo chamber effect can exacerbate negative searches for your brand.

Influencers can increase your visibility on their networks, helping to improve search results for your brand.

High-end sporting goods maker Peloton came under heavy criticism in December 2019 when one of its viral ads was called “sexist and dystopian”. The ad was parodied, stocks took a hit, and negative searches for Peloton dominated the SERPs for weeks.

By leveraging the power of influencers, Peloton was able to seal any further leaks from its ship in its “Connected Fitness” strategy.

Peloton has partnered with trainers and fitness enthusiasts with a high engagement rate to promote different products and their classes.

As a result, Peloton survived the crisis – the company’s revenue more than doubled to $1.82 billion in 2020 from $714 million in 2019. Their users also grew from 1.4 million in 2019 to 3.1 million in 2020. Granted, much of the jump here was likely due to the pandemic and more people investing in fitness at home. But in a way, influencers may also have played a role in helping Peloton manage its online reputation and be a priority for consumers when gyms were no longer an option.

Influencers and PR: a powerful combination in times of crisis

Marketers should not be shy about looking outside their own organizations to mitigate a crisis. Used in the right way, influencers can sway public opinion in their favor, no matter how severe the crisis.

Influencers can do this in many ways with their huge following. They can help your brand weather the storm by improving trust and brand awareness, building on audience engagement, and driving positive search traffic. Potential influencers can also help rally support for your cause and promote your improved products.

All you have to do is take the time to research the right influencer for your brand. With PR and influencer marketing combined, you have a powerful tool that will help you weather any crisis and ensure you stay in the good books of your clients and the general public.

Ready to improve your crisis communication strategy? Grab our template to document your three-step crisis management plan.