A number of business owners and brand managers use Twitter as a tool for communicating advertising and marketing messages, but the popular social media and microblogging site is also an equally powerful public relations tool.
Twitter is especially effective in helping you manage your online reputation and plan your crisis communications strategy. Where before, one turned to PR firms in times of crisis and controversy, sticking to traditional media is no longer enough today.
Why? Because:

  • People are making and engaging in conversations 24/7, real-time, on social media networks.
  • People are sharing information and opinion through the Internet now more than ever.
  • Dissatisfied customers (or employees), competitors, and unscrupulous stealth marketers can spread false information or commit brand identity theft as easily as they can push their own agendas.

So here Twitter comes to save the day! In cases of crisis that can potentially significantly damage your business or brand, you can leverage this tool to respond, interact, and manage – quickly, instantly, and socially. Just make sure you remember these tips:
Be on Twitter. You won’t know what’s happening unless you’re actually listening. If you’re not on Twitter, then you have no chance to find out who’s talking about your brand and what exactly the conversation is about – much less take part in that conversation.
Craft a crisis communications plan. What will you do when your product gets bad reviews on social networks? Who will be the one to speak in behalf of your company? And where will you respond? Answer these questions and more by creating a crisis communications plan. (If you need help, let us know.) Until you have a plan in place, until your strategy is clear as crystal, it’s best to avoid posting social media content in the meantime.
Prevention is better than reaction. Twitter has a search tool that enables you to search, track, and monitor conversations about your brand or business – before any negative stuff even happens. There are also many free great tools for tracking Twitter sentiment. Leverage these, be proactive, be part of the community before the crisis even hits, and don’t sit and wait for bad stuff to happen before managing your online reputation.
Coordinate everything. Sometimes a crisis pushes everyone into a panic, and representatives of a company tweet recklessly without first coordinating their communications. Avoid this mistake, follow your crisis communications plan, and make sure you assign ownership of your worst-case scenarios. Don’t confuse your audiences with several – and contrasting – “official words on the matter”.
Acknowledge and apologize. That is, if you have to. If you did make a serious blunder, be humble enough to say sorry to those who have been affected by it. Then explain what happened exactly, and what steps you are going to take next in order to address the issue. Doing this reassures your audience, and keeps them from coming to the conclusion that your business or brand is one that doesn’t care about people.
Don’t acknowledge and don’t apologize. This applies to cases in which there is no issue. Sometimes, all the Twitter talk swirling around your brand amounts to nothing – you are innocent, after all! – and the best step you can take is to avoid a kneejerk reaction.
Respond quickly, publicly, and directly. And use @mentions when replying to specific Twitter users who have tweeted negatively about you. The whole Twitter community should be able to see that you are a business or brand that cares – and that you are not ignoring people’s concerns, opinions, and questions about the way you operate. Sure, a direct message can help calm down a disgruntled customer, but that’s just one person. Let everyone hear what you have to say.
Use hashtags. Adding a hashtag to your tweets allows you to establish a way of monitoring the issue at hand. Hashtags are also easily searchable on Twitter, which means that, far more than a tracking feature, they are a tool for demonstrating your transparency – even in times of crisis.
Welcome suggestions. People won’t take you seriously if things continue to blow up – and it’s the same issue over and over again. To gain the trust of the community, listen to what they have to say. Ask them what you can do to serve customers better. And don’t hesitate to announce that you are open to suggestions.