By Melony Roy

By Melony Roy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Social media have become an important tool for businesses and brands in their marketing, but we’ve seen a number of recent cases in which those efforts backfire. In response, experts in so-called “crisis PR” are learning new skills.

Reputations are won or destroyed during a crisis, so being prepared for one is essential, according to Tim Spreitzer, a vice president at Tierney Communications in Philadelphia.

“There’s no doubt that social media is absolutely a game changer for crisis and issues management,” Spreitzer tells KYW Newsradio.  “It has redefined transparency and certainly closed the gap between individuals and institutions and dramatically accelerated the timelines for responding in a crisis.  And certainly with the saturation of social media, there’s no such thing as a crisis that happens offline.”

Gossip columnist turned public relations consultant Dan Gross agrees that time is both a friend and an enemy in such situations.

“The first thing that is necessary is to stop, take a breath and  step back,” he says.  “A lot of what gets people in trouble is the instantaneousness of it all.”

He says airlines in particular, aware of how quickly trouble on their system goes viral, are getting pretty good at handling Twitter and Facebook rants.

“People will be tweeting at such-and-such airline, ‘Hey you lost my bags, you suck.’   And (the airline) will say, ‘Thank you for your concern, please direct-message us.’  And ten minutes later you’ll see another tweet that says, ‘Thanks to Julie at such-and-such airline, she immediately resolved my situation.’ ”

So, what should individuals do when they find themselves in a social media crisis?

“We build our crisis communications work around four key pillars,” Spreitzer, of Tierney, says.  “And those are speed, accuracy, authenticity, and empathy.”

He also says that everything that is shared on the Internet lives on forever — there really is no such thing as a deleted tweet or profile.

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