Quick, transparent PR response to a crisis or issue has always been an expectation and a basic tenet of good issues management. However, as the social media era progresses and the rate at which information is shared increases, expectations of PR's response have increased too.
There is significant proof of the damage that can be done to a company's reputation through social media channels. A classic example is the following video that was made in 2009 by the Canadian band 'Sons of Maxwell'. The band created this in response to United Airlines' treatment of their gear and complaint.
This video has since garnered over 11.5 million views on YouTube in addition to lots of press attention. The combination of humour and creativity made it a perfect candidate to go viral within days, and left United Airlines scrambling to save face. It certainly demonstrated the ability of social media to give a powerful megaphone to the customer, and the speed it has to reach an enormous audience
With more and more people using Smartphones and devices capable of recording video at any moment, transparency becomes even more necessary than ever for PR practitioners. Any attempt to obfuscate can quickly be disproven by 'citizen journalism'.
Take, for example, the video footage that was filmed by passengers aboard the Costa Concordia in the hours after they were instructed to evacuate.
Even five years ago there simply would not have been the volume of footage of this incident that there is today. It has become the norm, perhaps even the expectation, that we will be able to see events like this unfold from the perspective of the people who went through it.
Another example of the influence of citizen journalism is the large quantity of images and video that were captured during the riots in Vancouver following last game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Police came to rely heavily on these photos, videos and facebook pages in order to identify vandals and make arrests.
What these examples show is that there is mounting pressure for PR to stay ahead of the technology and respond quickly to situations that could flame up out of control. However, are we exchanging immediacy for thoughtfulness? Is there potential to do more harm than good by reacting instantaneously without having time to consider strategies and tactics?
In my opinion, it is of utmost importance for PR reps to be as proactive as possible in social media so that relationships are created and maintained online as equally as they are offline. In doing so, credibility and trust are built in this ever-changing realm, which will equip the organization to face any future issue.