How Influencer Marketing Can Help in A PR Crisis

A PR crisis can have a huge impact on business operations. Negative stories harm sales and long-term growth prospects and tarnish your brand image. You need a solution to deal with this public problem, and working with influencers is worth considering.

With their public reach and compelling content, influencers can help in your attempts to regain public trust. Here's how influencer marketing can help you in a PR crisis.

1. Resolve the crisis by using credibility

Influencers are some of the most trusted personalities in their respective niches. Aside from being experts in their industry, they are also excellent communicators and have a large audience. 

A PR crisis management campaign can use an influencer’s reach and expertise to dispel doubts about your brand and build your credibility. Because influencers are seen as trustworthy sources of information, endorsements coming from them carry a lot of weight and can sway public opinion to your side.

Source: IGN

The Cyberpunk 2077 crisis in 2020 is a good example of a company that used influencer marketing within the context of a PR disaster.

A global audience eagerly awaited the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Millions of people bought the game when it launched. Unfortunately, the game had so many bugs that Playstation pulled it from their online store a few weeks after the release.

CD Projekt Red, the game developers, faced a PR disaster. 

The first issue CD Projekt Red needed to address was the problem. They made a public apology and worked hard to improve the game.

CD Projekt Red leaned heavily on influencer marketing to shift public opinion after implementing fixes. The company asked vloggers to create new game reviews. They even created characters based on influencers. For example, game vlogger CohhCarnage served as the inspiration for the character Garry the Prophet. 

As a result of this influencer campaign, people gave the game a second chance. The reviews of Cyberpunk 2077 are now mostly positive. The game has an 86% approval rate on Metacritic and improved sales numbers over the past year.

2. Create positive SEO-friendly content to dominate the search results

When people hear of an emerging issue, the first thing they would do is Google about it. Celebrity gossip, world news, you name it. People do the same thing when a PR crisis unfolds.

When workers went on strike at Weetabix, a popular breakfast cereal company, it resulted in massive product shortages. Naturally, consumers were unhappy about the news, and the shortage dominated news cycles for a month:

After just a few months, though, hardly anyone ever talks about the Weetabix strike or the shortage that it caused. How did Weetabix turn public opinion in its favor?

In crisis management, you need to match the negative news with your positive PR. The press wants to get all sides of the story. The lack of response creates a news vacuum that negative news will fill. To keep this from happening, you need to engage the press. Your response may address the crisis head-on or sway attention away from it.

Where does influencer marketing come in? 

In the case of Weetabix, the brand partnered with well-known food influencers, particularly on TikTok. The campaigns attempted to get some positive attention after the strike was resolved. For example, Rhiannon Lambert’s recipe video about Weetabix cheesecake had over one million views:

Mainstream news outlets quickly picked up on the Weetabix cheesecake trend, with some websites offering their version of the recipe:

Thanks to well-timed influencer marketing, Weetabix shook off the negative PR coming from its shortage. Positive news now dominates the web searches for the brand. 

3. Shift the conversation by promoting other products

Influencers drive the conversation. If you're able to disseminate your official statement through influencers and the press, it can convince the public that you’re doing everything you can to address the crisis. You may also use this opportunity to start promoting other products and sway public attention away from the issue.

For instance, fitness brand Peloton announced a recall of its Tread+ treadmill in May 2021 due to reports of children getting into accidents. After a few days of the announcement, Peloton resumed its influencer marketing, but this time focusing on its other products:

Peloton’s influencer posts featured its signature classes, exercise bikes, and accessories for the following weeks instead of the Tread+. The pivot showed that Peloton still had a role to play in the fitness niche. After an extensive redesign, the Tread+ has also made a comeback.

4. Help spread out the positive message faster by encouraging discussions

People are more likely to engage with an influencer than with a company account because influencers are more “human”. For that reason, influencers can help you spread out the positive message faster by encouraging more discussions among their followers.

There are a couple of numbers that increase when word breaks out about your PR crisis, for better or worse:

  • Daily search volume
  • Website traffic
  • Brand engagement
  • Brand mentions

Now, you might say that engagement is engagement, regardless of the public sentiment about your brand. However, it can go disastrous if you cannot control the conversation and channel it into something positive. Influencer marketing can help turn negative engagement into something that will benefit your brand. 

For instance, the UK National Health Service COVID-19 app “pinged” half a million people in July 2021, telling them to self-isolate due to potential exposure to the virus. The resulting scandal, dubbed the “pingdemic” by the media, led to businesses closing. The public also lost trust in the app, which led to users deleting the contact tracing app from their devices.

To reassure the public that the app was still necessary, the NHS engaged with influencers from all walks of life. Political influencer Lydia Finney, for example, created an Instagram post about the NHS app and why it was still necessary despite its technical limitations. 

As a non-aligned political commentator, Finney was credible enough to be trusted by people on both sides of the spectrum. She was also able to convince many of her followers to keep the app on their devices in the middle of so much misinformation.

You can reach a wider audience when influencers are involved in the conversation. If influencers believe in your actions, they will share positive opinions with their audience. This tip is especially useful if you have a strong brand presence on social media.

5. Boost brand awareness by widening your reach via social media

When you use social media to build your brand, social media can also become the reason for its decline, especially if a PR crisis scares potential customers and investors away. But if you handle this PR crisis correctly, more people will become aware of your brand than before the crisis. 

For instance, the beauty brand Glossier faced a PR crisis in 2020, when a group of former Glossier employees accused the brand of “anti-Blackness, transphobia, ableism”, among others. While Glossier responded to the accusations, many felt that the response was inadequate. 

As a response to this fiasco, Glossier intensified its outreach among people of color and the LGBT community. For example, it started featuring more Black and LGBT influencers in its content. It also provided $500K in grants to Black-owned beauty startups. As a result of its influencer campaign, searches for Glossier is now higher than pre-2020 levels.

In Closing

Influencers are powerful personalities that can shift public opinion. The niche authority of influencers, paired with their compelling content, makes them effective channels for spreading feedback about your company.

Having influencers share positive news about your company can foster a positive brand image. You can use influencers alongside other marketing channels to connect and communicate with your target audience.

Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of insight-led PR agency Prohibition, blogger at SocialMediaTraining, former University lecturer, author of “Share This Too” and listed in the UK's top 10 PR and social media bloggers.