Could an Orange Wave Crash Doug Ford's Party?

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In what many predicted to be a two-way race between the incumbent Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP now finds itself polling in second place. Following two strong debate performances, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s message appears to be resonating with voters. According to a recent report, the Ontario NDP could be on the verge of riding an orange wave into official opposition status, just like Jack Layton did in the 2011 federal election.

The latest seat projections from Barry Kay at the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy show the Tories winning 72 seats, the NDP securing 30, and the Liberals falling to 22. While this still puts the Doug Ford PCs well within majority territory (they need 63 seats to achieve that), the likelihood of the NDP as the official opposition is becoming more of a reality. With these rising fortunes, the NDP finds itself having to fend off more attacks, and even questions about the possibility of a coalition government.

The notion of a coalition government was quickly put to bed by Horwath, who said there was no way she’d partner with the Wynne Liberals, have struggled to make any real progress in the campaign thus far. There’s also the fact that the Liberals remain deeply unpopular in the province, so a coalition wouldn’t be helpful to the NDP’s brand.

On the other side of the spectrum, it's not only the PC Party that is taking notice of the NDP’s recent boost in popularity. Ontario Proud, a right-leaning Facebook page which boasts over 350,000 followers, is now training their sights on the NDP. From a communications perspective, this is a boon: the PCs are in a unique position this election to have such a large and vocal third-party activist -- something the Liberals and NDP can’t currently muster.

While it is far too early to predict the final outcome of the vote, it will be interesting to watch how much the NDP can eat into the Tories’ lead. Will it be enough to reduce their victory to a minority government? That will depend on Ford being able to stay on message and avoid any major gaffes, and for Horwath to continue to grow her popularity (she has benefited from significant increase in net favourability over the last three months) while at the same time making inroads in new ridings across the province - as she works to position the NDP as the "anyone but Ford" option. This could be difficult for the NDP as they have a small base and will need to work hard to win over and retain converts. The NDP surge could be short-lived if the Liberals manage to turn things around, but if they don’t, they could find themselves reduced to third party status -- a remarkable change of scenery for the party which has been in power for the past decade and a half.

The third and final leaders debate will be held on May 27. Watch this space for our insights and analysis as the three parties make their final push ahead of the June 7th vote.

MAKE SURE YOUR BUSINESS IS PREPARED

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, Vice-President, Public Affairs, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next month and beyond. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.

Want to win friends and influence people? Don't assume, and open up.

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I spent a good chunk of my PR career at two of North America’s biggest banks. One day, I secured the CEO a speaking role on a well-regarded panel about the global economy, complete with a TV interview with a major outlet immediately afterwards. I was pleased, the CEO was pleased (and approved the idea immediately) and I thought we were ready to roll.

Not so fast.

“Our CEO isn’t an economist,” the head of the bank’s investor relations team said when I shared the idea. “Why would we expose him to this sort of risk?”

My immediate instinct was defensive – a top-tier media and speaking opportunity, a chance to position the CEO as a thought leader and showcase their knowledge, and this is the response I get? What a silly question!

But, as is often the case with being defensive, it was me who was approaching the situation with a less-than-intelligent lens. The IR leader was rightly concerned about a different set of stakeholders who might watch the conference and TV interview – analysts and shareholders – and was worried the CEO might misspeak or overstate their concerns about the housing market.

In other words, the IR leader was doing their job, just as I was. But because we had an imperfect and imprecise understanding of what the other did, we were completely out of alignment. We were at odds with each other, when we should have been working together.

The moral of this short story for any PR professional is simple: don’t assume your partners know what you do for a living, or why you make the recommendations you make and choose the strategies you choose.

A smart colleague at another company solved this challenge by going on a “road show” – in-person meetings with departments like sales, legal, investor relations designed to explicitly explain what PR did, how it did it, and why. Importantly, each presentation was customized to show how PR can add value and create opportunity for the partner in question. It was hard to resist!

The reason this approach works is because something magical happens when you put all your cards down on the table for your partners and leave them with no doubts about how you see the world, and how they can benefit. Trust and transparency start to form the moment there is nothing to suspect, guess at or deduce because everything is laid plain and bare.

Next time you’re about to talk with your in-house partners, or your external agency, do yourself a favour: tell them more about your role and your team, rather than less. You have nothing to lose and trusted friends to gain.

Analysis: Testy debate tone sets stage for contentious Ontario election campaign

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Just days before the official kickoff of one of the most important Ontario elections in decades, voters witnessed just how testy this upcoming campaign can be as the three main party leaders squared off in the first televised debate.

The debate pitted seasoned political leaders Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath against newly minted PC Leader Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor who finds himself leading in the polls with a month to go until Ontarians cast their votes. By all indications, this is his election to lose.

Throughout the debate, Ford criticized Premier Wynne by driving home his key talking points about the Liberals’ mismanagement of the province’s finances, and finding cost-cut efficiencies without laying anyone off in the public sector. Just how he will do that is yet to be determined, as the PCs have not released a fully-costed platform.

Andrea Horwath, who finds her party trying to outflank the Liberals on the left, painted herself as a sensible alternative to Wynne or Ford. Throughout the debate, as Wynne and Ford trained their attacks on one another, Horwath used each opportunity to drive this point home. Despite being leader of the NDP for nine years, she has struggled to raise her public profile and sway voters who traditionally vote Liberal to support her party.

As the incumbent, Wynne was forced to deflect attacks from both left and right, defending her record and promoting her plan to boost government spending programs. The Premier highlighted the province’s strong job growth and low unemployment rate as one of the reasons she should be elected another term.  

After 15 years of Liberal rule, there is general agreement that Ontario is in a mood for change. But with Wynne’s dwindling approval ratings, Ford’s disapproval numbers, and Horwath’s smaller public profile, just what that change will look like remains unclear. While a PC government is the most likely outcome, recent polls suggest that nearly half of Ontario voters are still undecided. This will be a hard-fought race to the end, and if recent global events such as Brexit and the election of President Trump has taught us, anything can happen.

Make sure your business is prepared

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next month and beyond. We can also discuss our new Government Relations election service offering, which provides customized monitoring and analysis throughout the election. 

For more information on this and other services we can offer, contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.

 

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Provident grows again with the addition of Morgan McLellan as Account Director

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Morgan McLellan, Account Director

Provident Communications Inc. today announced that Morgan McLellan has joined the firm as Account Director, further expanding its capabilities in strategic communications, media relations and crisis and issues management.

Morgan joins Provident from Navigator Ltd., where he served as Senior Consultant. Morgan has helped clients on a wide range of mandates, from managing national persuasion and activation campaigns to providing real-time strategic counsel in rapidly developing crisis management situations. Morgan was also a registered lobbyist, advocating the interest for two leading associations in the energy and insurance sectors at Queen’s Park.

Prior to this, Morgan worked at an integrated communications company with a focus on corporate communications, producing award-winning content for some of the country’s largest brands. Before making the leap into the communications industry, Morgan was a writer and producer at CTV News Channel, Canada’s largest privately owned news network. Working in the national newsroom, Morgan understands just how fast stories spread in a 24-hour news cycle.

Active in politics, Morgan has volunteered on both federal and provincial election campaigns and is very engaged in policy issues that can impact client mandates.

An outsider’s perspective: why organizations need to consider external expertise in a crisis

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Businesses are under more public scrutiny than ever before. With social media platforms so ingrained in everyday life, news - both good and bad - spreads rapidly. The most recent and obvious example is the ongoing Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal, which has resulted in countless accusatory social media posts and news articles, and has put the company on the defensive when it comes to explaining how users’ privacy and data has been breached. Without knowing the details, it’s still hard to imagine that Facebook was well prepared for the crisis when it hit, based on both the company’s own reaction, and the response from the public.

This is just one example of the need to have a firm crisis plan in place, be proactive in engaging stakeholders, and have a network of resources to help protect corporate reputation when the unknown strikes.

Leveraging external expertise can provide significant value to organizations during times of reputational upheaval, and can often serve to either diffuse the situation or help to rebuild public trust and restore corporate reputation. Here are three core benefits to leveraging an external advisor in times of crisis:

They see things people on the inside don’t notice.

Simply put, an external communications advisor brings a fresh perspective to the table, unhindered by internal bias or pressure. Put another way, external experts are not drinking your kool-aid, which gives their perspective a healthy dose of skepticism. He or she can examine current policies, speak to employees at all levels to get a solid grasp on internal perception, detect holes in internal or external communications, and provide a frank assessment of the existing strategy in place. From there, advisors can provide an objective recommendation on how best to approach the matter, within the organization and externally with media and the public.

They can spur companies into action.

When an organization’s reputation is at risk and criticism is coming from every angle, it can be tempting to recede into the background and try to disappear. This is rarely the right approach - in fact, it can further damage reputation and make companies look culpable, even if there is no malicious intent. An external expert can band together the right people and resources, work with your team to develop an actionable crisis plan, and provide recommendations on how best to implement that plan. This might include identifying the right company spokesperson, crafting core messaging, and releasing a statement or issuing a formal apology, if needed, all in a prompt and timely manner in order to preserve or restore reputation when it’s needed most.  

They dispassionately prepare executives for best and worst case scenarios.

From narrative development to leading mock interviews and providing a refresher on the ever-changing media landscape, a PR advisor is there to help develop and guide executives through the process step-by-step, from how to proactively engage with key stakeholders to how to field even the trickiest media questions. They will ensure you’re prepared to handle the good, the bad and the ugly, while maintaining composure and tact, as well as a no-nonsense approach. While it’s easy to feel confident when everything is working in your favour, lack of preparation (no matter the situation and the public’s perception of your organization) is ill-advised. External expertise will help ensure you are well-equipped to manage any outcome.

More organizations would reap the benefits of enhanced corporate reputation if they engaged with a communications firm or adviser early on - and ideally before a crisis hits - to establish and implement a plan. By doing so, they can often prevent irreparable damage to their reputation, both internally and in the court of public opinion.

Provident bolsters public affairs expertise with the addition of Michelle Wasylyshen

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When our clients ask what sets Provident apart from the pack, we point to the fact that we are staffed by senior experts who know how to get their message across to the right audience when it matters most.

Today, we’re excited to strengthen this promise even further, by welcoming Michelle Wasylyshen to the Provident team as our new Vice President of Public Affairs. Michelle will provide clients with strategic counsel in the areas of political advocacy, stakeholder relations, issue and reputation management and strategic communications.

Having worked in both the private and public sectors for more than 15 years, Michelle brings with her extensive public affairs knowledge and insight. Most recently, Michelle oversaw government and stakeholder relations activities for Canada’s largest natural gas distribution company and the Canadian-based leader in energy transportation and distribution. where she drove and managed public consultation and stakeholder outreach during a period of unprecedented public scrutiny.

Before this, Michelle was a senior advisor with a highly respected public affairs firm, where she provided a full spectrum of public affairs consulting services for a diverse array of domestic and international organizations and industry associations. Michelle has also worked for Ontario’s second-largest pension fund, where she implemented a comprehensive stakeholder relations program and led the organization’s government relations function. Prior to that, she held positions within the offices of Ontario’s Solicitor General and Attorney General.

When you decide to work with Provident, you are partnering with a new kind of strategic communications agency. Staffed by senior experts, we are an extension of your team and with you every step of the way, from ideation to strategy and execution. Our combined expertise allows us to understand your diverse, changing business needs and deliver custom strategies, plans and points-of-view that are impactful, while protecting and enhancing your reputation.

Looking for a senior team with the savvy and know-how to manage your brand? Provident is here to help. Get in touch with us today and let's start a conversation.

 

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Breaking: Provident Communications & Citizen Relations announce exclusive strategic partnership

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Provident was founded in 2016 as a new kind of communications agency. We’re home to experienced, senior counsellors who move fast and work with clients from strategy through to execution. We’ve sat in executive boardrooms, advised some of the world’s biggest brands and solved every challenge you can think of. In short, we know what it takes get the results our clients need.

Staying true to that promise has helped us grow quickly and do great work for our incredible and growing roster of clients. Today, we’re excited to extend that commitment even further by announcing an exclusive, strategic partnership with Citizen Relations, a global and award-winning integrated creative communications agency.

While we remain as two agencies with individual brands, we’ll be working side-by-side to offer our existing and future clients Citizen’s award-winning expertise in the social and earned media space, along with influencer marketing, experiential and analytics. And for our part, we’ll continue to provide our clients with best-in-class, senior level counsel, strategy and execution in the areas in which we excel: corporate and B2B media relations and content development, issues and crisis management, and executive thought leadership.

  From left to right: Michael MacMillan, EVP at Provident Communications; Wojtek Dabrowski, founder and managing partner at Provident; and Nick Cowling, North American president at Citizen Relations.

From left to right: Michael MacMillan, EVP at Provident Communications; Wojtek Dabrowski, founder and managing partner at Provident; and Nick Cowling, North American president at Citizen Relations.

The partnership (which you can read more about on Strategy) is already in full effect and producing some great work. Combining our firepower means there’s very little we can’t do for organizations looking to restore, defend or enhance their brands or reputations. 

We’re beyond excited about this massive forward step in Provident’s growth trajectory, and what it means for our clients. If you’re looking for a new agency partner to help bring your brand’s story to life, or just want to learn more about us, get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you!

The modern workplace: why you should consider a flexible work environment

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While companies increasingly say they offer ‘remote’ or ‘flexible’ work opportunities for their employees - whether work-from-home Fridays or a ‘results only work environment’ - very few actually enforce it as part of the company culture, and employees are often hesitant to take advantage of these so-called work perks. In reality, you’re often still expected to be at a desk, Monday through Friday, from nine a.m. to five p.m. (at minimum) if you want to keep up appearances that you are thoroughly doing your job and producing business results.  

This is an old-fashioned mentality that must be addressed if organizations are expected to meet the needs of an evolving workforce. Lack of trust is often the common denominator preventing employers from enforcing more remote or flexible work arrangements. It is difficult for some business leaders to believe their team will in fact be working outside of the office, whether it’s from home or elsewhere. This trust gap is inevitably a big hurdle, but one that must be overcome if organizations want to move with the times and keep their employees happy over the long-term.

When you trust your team, treat them like adults and give them the flexibility to choose where they work from, they are bound to be more satisfied with their job. Retention is also much higher if your employees are offered flex work. Not convinced? Here are some other benefits to a flexible work arrangement.

Productivity

A key benefit is improved productivity. I know this from personal experience - less distraction and interruptions typically experienced in an office helps me complete my tasks in a more focused and efficient manner - but research also supports this theory. A recent survey by FlexJobs found that 66% of workers polled are more productive in a home office. According to the survey, some of the most common reasons for increased productivity, in addition to fewer interruptions or distractions, are: less commuter-driven stress, less office politics, and reduced noise levels. Now that’s data I can work with.

Autonomy

Not all employees are made the same. Everyone has their own preferred work zone and it most often depends on the situation. As someone who does a lot of writing for my job, I often feel most inspired when I lock myself away in a quiet space at home. Others may find a coffee shop the perfect place to spark creativity, while yet others may benefit from the structure of a shared office space. The bottom line is that, depending on our personalities and the tasks we undertake (which are often varied in the modern workplace) will underscore where we like to work the most. Having the autonomy to choose that environment depending on the task - with less micromanagement throughout the day - is a major benefit of a flexible work arrangement.

Collaboration

Yes, you can still collaborate in real time, even if your team is working from various remote locations. The advent of technology has made this increasingly simple, so being in one designated workplace, five days a week, is no longer a necessity for many technology-reliant jobs. In this plugged-in era, employees are typically within easy reach of their laptops, mobile phones, and other devices. Combined with the prevalence of cloud-based collaboration tools for chatting and video-conferencing, there really is no shortage of ways to connect from afar.

Work-Life Balance

When you don’t need to travel to a dedicated workspace day after day, particularly during busy rush hours, you can use that time in other ways. One option is to work through your deliverables so you have more time for home life after-hours. Alternatively, it can give you an added opportunity to focus on ways to increase your physical and mental health and well-being, by freeing up more time to exercise, make a hearty breakfast, read, walk your dog, spend more time with family, and so on.

Another key reason to advocate for a flexible work space is that the best ideas often don’t happen between nine to five. I enjoy writing in the evenings, while others may feel most productive in the early hours of the morning. The flexibility of choosing your work setting and, to a degree, hours, can foster increased balance between work and home life. The key is finding what works best for you while simultaneously meeting the business needs of your employer.

Sociability

I would argue that creating opportunities for in-person interaction is still incredibly important in the modern workplace. While being able to work remotely is a great perk, certainly there are times when employees crave more interaction and sociability - I know I do. Going for meetings at a local café is one way to tackle this. Having a shared or co-working office space is another great way to counteract periodic feelings of isolation. Moreover, in-person meetings may foster improved brainstorms and innovation. The reality is, even as the way we work continues to morph and evolve, sometimes people need face time (actual, in-person face time, not the technological kind). We are human, after all.

What are your thoughts on the modern workplace and the future of work? Whether a business owner or an employee, do you embrace a flexible work environment? There is no shortage of compelling thinking on the subject matter, and I would love to hear your viewpoint.

Five PR time-wasters you should cut from your life right now

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If my social feeds are any indication, the fastest-growing sport isn’t pickleball (seriously, check it out), it’s “getting the most done before 9am.” Lately I’ve been inundated with stories telling me to wake long before sunrise and dive into my to-do list so that, by the start of the work day, I’m ready to really start working.

If you love setting your alarm for 5 a.m., go for it. But I have a better idea: ridding yourself of “busy work” activities that too often plague PR pros during normal business hours. Cut back on these time sucks and you’ll find yourself with more room to think and do great work for your clients or executives, which is why we do what we do in the first place.

Waiting for approvals on everything

Be honest – sometimes we send an idea or plan of attack over to the person we need buy-in from, knowing full well we’re never going to hear back. At least we tried, right?

Save yourself from drafting that initial email, plus the many follow-ups and the non-committal hallway conversations. You’re the PR expert, and your responsibility extends to the brand, not to one person with a title. Go out and put your idea into action. If it fails, no one is the wiser. If it works, then you’ll have done something great! And in my experience, executives are far more likely to respond positively once asked when they’re available for a high-profile interview, versus whether they’d like to even do one. Salespeople don’t get fired for selling. And you won’t either for doing what you’re supposed to do: protecting and enhancing your organization’s brand.

Drafting a content calendar that will never see the light of day

The larger and more sophisticated the organization, the more important content calendars become. People need clarity when dealing with multiple channels and a lot of copy. But in start-ups or smaller organizations, creating formal, colour-coded calendars amounts to little more than busy-work.

Here’s a better idea: Dump the fancy template and just come up with 10 meaty, original ideas for content with deadlines and then commit to producing and sharing them on time.

Converting boring internal material into boring social posts

LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook offer a lot of room to play with, but they are not content dumping grounds. And the risks of posting anything less than the best material possible are high indeed, given the intense competition for attention and fickle algorithms.

So, if you’re asked to take something that just isn’t worth sharing, be it a jargon-filled technical manual or yet another event reminder, just say no. Don’t have that authority? Then make sure you have all those great content ideas I mentioned above ready to go, plus some other assignments so that your pipeline is nicely filled, leaving little room for filler.

Embarking on an epic agency search

Reaching out to 10 agencies feels good at first. You want to be thorough and diligent, and ensure that you choose wisely. You’re dazzled by all the credentials decks and you can’t wait to hear all those great ideas. But the bigger your search, the longer it will take, and unless you have operations on more than three continents, you don’t need to reach out to every agency with a website. If you don’t have a formal procurement department to deal with, why do that to yourself?

Instead, make life easy. Ask around, get recommendations, do some research. Find a handful of agencies that have good reputations and that have clearly done the kind of work you want to do. Then call them and take it from there.

Trying to be opportunistic when you’re clearly not

You’re reading the news on Monday morning and there it is – a breaking story that is not about you, but which is nonetheless relevant to your company’s expertise and opens the door for you to provide commentary. It’s the perfect opportunity for your spokesperson. Two days later - after getting approvals (see above), slowly drafting and revising a pitch, and meeting with your team to figure out who will do what – you’re finally ready to go, just in time for no one to care.

Being able to move fast when news breaks takes a lot of preparation when news is slow. Use that time. But if you haven’t, or if your culture moves slowly, be honest and ask yourself if all that time and effort is worth it.

In an industry that moves as fast as ours, getting bogged down doesn’t just waste time, it makes us less effective. Committing to moving with speed and ignoring background noise is a great way to get more done.

If nothing else, it sure beats waking up a few hours after you go to sleep.

 

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Five easy ways to improve your brand’s social media strategy

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As the digital landscape continues to evolve at warp speed, it’s no surprise that more and more brands are racing to establish a strong social media presence. If done right, the benefits can be huge - increased brand recognition, more clients or customers, and long-term brand advocates. What brand wouldn’t want that?

Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple, and there are several key considerations to take into account if you want to set your brand up for social media success. Here are five ways to spruce up your social media strategy and credibly establish your brand in an immensely cluttered space.

1. Be Selective

While it might be tempting to sign up for every social media platform available, resist the urge. When you’re starting off, it’s imperative that you choose one or two platforms that most align with your brand identity and will reach the right audience. It’s better to do one thing really well versus try everything half-way. Which brings me to my next point.

2. One Size Does Not Fit All

Each social media platform serves a distinct purpose. This is why you need to do your research, get a solid grasp of where your target audience spends their time, and is in line with your company tone of voice, then execute accordingly. Are you a food or fashion brand with impeccable visuals to share? Instagram could be a great way to engage with current and prospective customers. On the other hand, if you’re a large organization looking to establish your senior executives as thought leaders, LinkedIn and company blogs are excellent platforms to share short opinion pieces. The key takeaway is to be authentic and leverage channels or platforms that are the right fit for your business needs.

3. Consistency is Key

If there’s one thing I’ve seen repeatedly in my career, it’s the propensity for brands to come barrelling out of the gate with solid content and posts, only to vanish to the sidelines shortly thereafter. Consistency really is the name of the game, and you need to establish a comprehensive content plan or calendar and be resolute in sticking to a schedule. A PR partner can help you map out a short-term or long-term content plan that will position your brand favourably and help you achieve your core business objectives.  

4. Engage!

One other common mistake is not engaging with your audience. All too often brands will push out great content but then fail to interact with the individuals who are taking time to like, comment and share. In some cases, they simply forget this important step, and in others, they are afraid of connecting with their audience ‘on the fly’ and avoid it at all costs. However, to build a lasting relationship with your audience, and hopefully develop brand advocates in the process, you need to be prepared to engage in real-time. Set aside a few minutes daily to scan for relevant conversations and any commentary on your posts, and respond accordingly.  

5. Have a Crisis Plan

Of course, the challenge with social media is that with the good, comes the bad. Of course there will be negative comments from time to time - that’s a reality of the digital landscape. Don’t take offense, and use it as an opportunity to either reinforce your company’s position, or in the case of failure or error in judgement, to apologize for your company’s misdeeds. Getting ahead of the news cycle is more important than ever. Ideally your organization has a crisis communications plan in effect - social media should certainly be accounted for within that plan. Again, engaging your PR agency to help develop and implement a crisis plan can help protect your brand reputation when you need to most.

Final Thoughts

Results rarely appear overnight. Patience is perhaps the best piece of advice I can impart. One of the main reasons brands give up on social media is because they are not seeing the immediate return on investment. While boosting select posts can certainly improve the odds of people seeing and interacting with your content over the short-term, it is not necessarily a viable (or authentic) long-term solution for your social media platforms. Truly authentic content and engagement takes time to yield maximum results.

The bottom line? By staying true to your brand, strategically selecting which platforms make sense for your company and audience, sticking to a schedule, engaging with your followers and having a crisis plan in place (just in case!), you will be far more likely to grow a loyal following that will stick with you through thick and thin.