How to Use Influencer Marketing in a PR Crisis

How to Use Influencer Marketing in a PR Crisis

When a crisis arises, it presents a significant threat to the company. If mishandled, it may have disastrous effects. A crisis may result in three significant risks: public safety, financial loss, and reputational damage.

Influencer marketing can be a powerful tool for managing PR issues and getting your messages out to the public during difficult times. Influencers are customer-centric, meaning they speak to the audience your brand wants to connect with. An influencer often knows how to communicate effectively with their audience.

But to get the desired results, you need to know how to leverage influencer marketing the right way. We’ll look at key ways to use influencer marketing as a PR crisis control measure. But before that, let’s look at the things you need to do first:

Getting Started

Here’s the thing. You can’t just reach out to influencers as soon as the crisis arises. Well, you can, but you might end up with no response from them. Remember, influencers are busy people and are being pitched to all of the time. They’re not likely to respond positively to a request at the last minute.

So, before anything else, you should establish strong influencer relationships. Don’t wait for a crisis to happen before you do this. It’s good to have that team of brand ambassadors on hand to speak out for your company if need be.

How to Use Influencer Marketing in a PR Crisis

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So, how do you choose these influencers?

You should find influencers who are in your niche and share your standpoint. Look at their followers. Technically, the more followers they have, the better for you (just make sure these aren’t fake followers). That just means when they post your brand’s statement, for example, it can reach many people. But it’s not just about the numbers. Audience relevance is also key. So get influencers followed by your target audience.

Always ensure you have a crisis response plan even before a crisis arises. Your PR and influencer marketing strategy should be based on this plan. The plan should specify what your influencers should do should a crisis arise. For instance, you might want to specify that queries or bad comments should never go unanswered on influencer postings. Or you might want to be explicit about the ways influencers should respond to audience questions about your brand.

When you have a PR plan in place, you won’t have to brief your influencer on what to say and what not to say when a crisis threatens your brand. Your influencer will know precisely how to defend you.

5 Ways You Can Use Influencer Marketing in a Crisis

So, let’s say you suddenly find yourself in a crisis. When that happens, there are several ways you can use influencer marketing to help your brand. We’ll look at five ways in this section. 

1. Rebuild Trust In Your Brand

It matters little what you say if people don’t believe you. After all, the social media audience is influenced by the people they trust, listen to, and follow. The echo chamber effect can sway and reinforce positive or negative feelings about your brand. 

But the good news is that PR and influencer marketing may work together to help you manage a crisis and restore trust. 

You can harness the power of influencer marketing to get a message to your core audience. An engaging campaign needs to speak to your niche audience, as this is where you want your voice to be loudest. That means building a strategy that allows flexibility while sticking to your main talking points.

Let me give you an example. Despite Tesla being the world’s most valuable car brand, the EV maker’s climb to the top hasn’t been rosy. The company suffered several significant PR setbacks between 2013 and 2021 when various EV models running its Full Self Driving Software suffered crashes, some really sad and tragic.

Most of the crashes happened in the US.

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For better or worse, Elon Musk has been a critical voice in discussions surrounding many of these PR disasters. Musk has 87.1 million followers on Twitter alone and has to be considered an influencer in every sense of the word. Whatever he says may influence his followers – it even influenced Twitter’s share price.

But Tesla didn’t stop there. To rebuild trust, Tesla engaged niche influencers. Musk has given creators like Marques Brownlee guided tours of the Tesla factory. In the video below, for instance, Musk and Brownlee visited the Tesla assembly line and discussed the car’s safety features:

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Trending mega-influencers have also helped Tesla build anticipation about upcoming product releases in emerging markets such as China, boosting Tesla’s reputation in East Asia.   

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Tesla’s endorsement by the Chinese mega-influencer Viya helped the EV maker gain a strong foothold in China, the company’s second-biggest market. 

These influencers have helped improve public trust in Tesla’s products. The brand saw a growth rate of over 157% in 2021. That’s not surprising since these influencers are seen as independent of Tesla’s influence. 

2. Boost Brand Awareness

It is a fact that when managing a crisis with influencers on social media, you may grow your fan base and boost brand awareness. PR and influencer marketing are potent tools to leverage the power of social media branding

Influencer marketing allows brands to use an influencer’s reputation and credibility to promote new products or service offerings even amid a crisis. Here’s an example. 

In October 2019, the Guardian revealed that Bangladeshi factory employees who produce the brand’s apparel are exposed to physical and verbal harassment. It was discovered that managers often used sexual insults to humiliate their employees.

To counter the criticisms, Lululemon announced a probe into its factory in Bangladesh. At the same time, it engaged various micro-influencers: yoga practitioners, athletes, creatives, musicians, and trainers to promote their products. 

Fashion Jackson, for example, created a post indicating she was still obsessed with a Lululemon jacket in the same month the crisis broke out.

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This strategy gave Lululemon a strong presence on social platforms, increasing brand awareness and reaching new people. In 2020, its revenue was $3.97 billion, a 21.01% increase from 2019.

3. Start Positive Conversations

PR setbacks can be spun to start positive conversations. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. 

Influencers can help you do this by creating positive and informative content about your company. They can also engage with your target audience and get them to talk about your company positively.

For example, in February 2022, Adidas faced backlash after posting a grid of 24 women’s breasts of varying shapes and sizes to advertise its latest sports bra collection. These critics accused Adidas of objectifying women by reducing them to mere body parts. 

To counter these criticisms, Adidas upped its social media strategy. It stood by the ad, emphasizing its main message was inclusivity:

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It set up the hashtags #SupportIsEverything and #impossibleisnothing to emphasize this core message. It also enlisted the help of influencers such as Jessamyn Stanley, a yoga teacher who overcame challenges growing up to become the person she wanted to be:

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When using influencers to start positive conversations during a PR crisis, it’s important to choose influencers trusted by your target audience and who embody the values you uphold. That will help ensure that the messages they share are well-received and that your company comes out of the situation looking good.

4. Enhance Engagement 

Social media and influencer marketing provide a golden opportunity for brands to connect with customers and get real-time feedback. Check out this example.

Dunkin Donuts faced mounting negative sentiment in 2018 when it changed its name to simply Dunkin’. Many customers thought that the company was shifting its focus away from donuts. The backlash was particularly strong in Boston and the American Northeast, where Dunkin’ has been an iconic brand for decades:

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Dunkin’ later clarified that the name change reflected an updated design concept and an expanded menu. Dunkin’ engaged nano and mega influencers to share this message with the public. The campaign involved influencers holding or drinking from Dunkin’s beverage cups with the new Dunkin’ label.

Many influencers came from areas like Philadelphia, where the backlash was strongest: 

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The company ran various ads with these influencers to promote its new coffee and beverages under hashtags #stilldunkin, #sippingisbelieving, and #phillyrunsondunkin. 

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Nano-influencer campaigns targeting younger, digitally-savvy GenZers appear to be successful. Dunkin’ has posted improved growth margins in its coffee and beverages category – up to $300 million annually, capturing a sizeable share of the beverages market in the US. 

5. Improve Search Results

Influencer marketing is not just confined to social media. It also impacts your brand’s search engine results, especially when dealing with a crisis. High-traffic influencer content can increase your brand exposure and push negative PR down the search results. This strategy works well if you’re working with influencers on multiple platforms. 

For instance, by the end of 2021, Weetabix faced a PR crisis when its workers went on strike, causing massive shortages that dominated the search results. However, several months after the strike, you’d barely see any results about the workers’ strike or the supply shortage.

How did that brand hurdle this challenge?

The brand engaged with food influencers, especially on TikTok and Instagram. Their strategy was to promote Weetabix as an alternative ingredient for well-known recipes. Thus, the hashtag #weetabixcheesecake was born:

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Thanks to the hashtag, Weetabix became a viral brand, and food blogs everywhere started posting their takes on the recipe:

By going into the “viral recipe” territory, Weetabix regained its positive online reputation. The campaign also resulted in a spike in organic searches of Weetabix compared to before the crisis:

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You need to be strategic about using influencers to drive your search results. Ensure that they have engaged followers. Working with people active on multiple platforms, including blogs, is sensible. 

Conclusion

Influencer marketing is one of the most effective methods to communicate with customers in real time during a crisis. They have immediate access to and connections with audiences. They can also talk in a voice that resonates with consumers and brands, making them incredibly valuable communications assets.

You can, therefore, use influencer marketing to help your brand in a crisis. Influencer marketing can: 

  • Rebuild trust;
  • Boost brand awareness
  • Start positive conversations;
  • Increase engagement;
  • Improve search results

Your campaign, however, still has to be carefully crafted and thought through. The influencers you choose should feel like a good fit and embody your brand’s values. You should also have a PR plan in place.

With the right PR and influencer marketing strategy, you can turn the tide in your favor and come out even stronger.

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