Bob Pickard, a Public Relations executive and social media expert from Toronto, Canada, spoke at our chapter meeting last week about social media, and the influence it can have on PR disasters. During our chapter meeting, I learned that social media has impacted the Public Relations industry in many ways. It can easily affect how a company is viewed by the public in a positive or negative way, especially when there is a PR disaster happening.

Public Relations disasters happen all of the time though they have become a much larger issue since social media has become more popular. Social media is seen as the most damaging form of media because so many people have access to it, and news can spread quickly. On the other hand, social media is the most powerful communications platform, for the same reasons.

Pickard shared a few studies that were conducted in Canada regarding social media and PR disasters. The first study showed that the majority of the groups believed social media is a major contributor to PR disasters. Because social media can have such an impact on the public, disasters can be blown up into something they are not if the organizations do not handle the situation correctly on social media. The second idea that the study showed was that public relations is becoming more important due to the media. The third, and final, idea is that organizations should acknowledge the public while the situations are occurring.

Pickard then went into more details regarding how social media should be used by organizations. He said that social media should be about creating relationships, not about sales. Interacting with the public gives the company trust and transparency. One example he gave regarded the plane crash that happened in Malaysia. Tony Fernandez, the owner of the AirAsia airline, live-tweeted about the plane crash. He kept people up-to-date with any new information. This made him reliable because people knew where to go for the most accurate information. Even though it was a tragedy, AirAsia was able to successfully recover because Fernandez used social media as a way to communicate with the public.

Public relations disasters are inevitable but it is important for companies to know how to successfully use social media to recover. Pickard gave many great examples of how social media can positively and negatively affect Public Relations disasters. For me, the biggest takeaway from his discussion is that social media is not going to go away, and Public Relations professionals need to learn how to use it to their advantage.

Bob Pickard did an incredible job connecting PR disasters and social media, as well as leaving us with some additional readings to learn more about how to use social media to our advantage as upcoming PR professionals. I look forward to connecting what I learned from him in my own career.

If you want to learn more about how to use your social media in the most productive way, consider reading these books:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Reputation Game – The Art of Changing How People See You – David Waller, Rupert Younger