How can PR and influencer marketing work together in a crisis?

Influencer marketing has grown from a $1.7 billion industry in 2016 to a projected $16.4 billion in 2022. It’s little wonder, then, that influencer marketing has become an indispensable part of the PR and crisis management approach for most brands.

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

1. Rebuilds trust in your brand

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

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

Starbucks closed down more than 8,000 stores to conduct racial bias training. The CEO, Kevin Johnson, also apologized to the two customers personally. Starbucks offered to pay their college 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 stop there, however. Starbucks also ramped up its influencer marketing efforts, collaborating with personalities like Jordan Fisher to expand the reach and inclusivity of their campaigns.

With this arsenal of influencers who promoted Starbucks products and other genius moves, the brand regained its trust among the Black community, which now forms around 8% of its partners.

2. Helps promote your improved products

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

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

The bugs affected consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox One. Sony pulled the game from the PlayStore for close to six months and CD Projekt Red paid back millions in customer refunds. It was a total mess.

Once the game was cleaned up, CD Projekt Red enlisted social media influencers to bring fresh brand awareness of the improved product. Its influencers included big-name gamers such as Alanah Pearce, Cohh Carnage and Jesse Cox.

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

3. Moves the conversation away from the crisis

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

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

Negative searches about Coca-Cola dominated the internet. Coca-Cola had nearly $4 billion wiped off its equity valuation.

In the immediate aftermath, Coca-Cola introduced the “One Coke Away From Each Other” and #RealMagic campaigns, partnering with micro-influencers, gamers and athletes alike.

With this successful campaign, Coca-Cola was able to quickly shift the conversation away from the PR embarrassment they faced just a few weeks prior.

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.” Before the collaboration, Kaepernick, then a professional US football player, had received backlash from some Americans after repeatedly refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of police brutality. He ended up losing his position in the National Football League.

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

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

5. Improves search results for your brand

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

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

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High-end sporting goods maker Peloton endured significant criticism in December 2019 when one of its viral ads was termed “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 partnered with trainers and fitness enthusiasts with a high engagement rate to promote different products and its classes.

As a result, Peloton survived the crisis—the company’s revenues more than doubled to $1.82 billion in 2020, from $714 million in 201.9 Their users also increased, from 1.4 million in 2019 to 3.1 million in 2020. It’s true that 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 have also played some role in helping Peloton manage its online reputation and be top of mind for consumers when gyms were no longer an option.

Influencers and PR: A powerful combination during a crisis

Marketers shouldn’t hesitate to look outside their own organizations to mitigate a crisis. Used the right way, influencers can sway public opinion in their favor, however bad the crisis is.

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

All you need 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 remain in the good graces of your customers and the public in general.

Ready to level up your crisis communications strategy? Grab our template to document your crisis management plan in three steps.