Social media and its viral platform cousins have changed the dynamics of public relations crises. Word of mouth spreads the news faster and “facts” [true or not] and “opinions” [informed or speculative] tend to have a very long life on search engines.

Alterian recently took a deep look at three infamous social media driven PR crises — Nestle, United Airlines and Domino’s — to understand the effect they had on each brand’s reputation. In all three instances, Alterian found that the more proactive the brand was in handling the crisis, the more quickly they were able to recover.

 The infographic below provides analysis and offers advice should you be in the PR crisis hot seat.

Among the factors examined using Alterian’s SM2 monitoring tool were the severity of the public’s reaction to the crisis, the time it took for each brand to return to their pre-crisis standing, and if/how the brand’s reaction to the crisis affected public opinion. Here are the key insights from the study:


  • If a brand is monitoring the conversations surrounding sentiment, they may be more likely to take action on a crisis in a positive manner by learning from experiences
  • An example is United defending their customer service and increasing positive sentiment by issuing Starbucks gift cards on flights.


  • It seems as though a brand’s initial reputation and average sentiment does have an effect on the crisis, but in an inverted fashion.
  • Both Nestle and United had a greater positive sentiment and dropped further. United, on the other hand, didn’t drop as much during the crisis because people expected this from the brand.


  • Initial response is not necessarily a good thing, and interaction can influence an audience’s perception of the brand.
  • An example is Nestle and how they attempted to defuse a growing social situation by censoring content and going back and forth with commenters on their Facebook page. This is not an ideal way to respond to a crisis.

Areas for Future Investigation

  • Does the brand’s industry affect the impact of the crisis (similar patterns with Domino’s and Nestle)?
  • Does the public’s sentiment about a brand before a crisis affect the negative impact of a PR Crisis?
  • Can a brand’s response lessen the long-term impact of a PR Crisis?


You may contact BaaS for an Alterian social media analysis   , twitter @baas_gr

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