The usually savvy pros at NBC and Twitter need a PR refresher course after their recent decision to suspend a journalist’s Twitter account over criticism of NBC’s Olympic programming.

Guy Adams (@guyadams), a Los Angeles-based reporter for British newspaper The Independent, began posting criticism of the tape-delay Olympic programming last Friday. In his frustration, he posted the email address of an NBC executive that he found online and encouraged his followers to send the executive an email about their displeasures. Twitter suspended his account because he posted the email address, and his followers and colleagues took to Twitter to protest.

Instead of being positioned as privacy advocates, NBC and Twitter looked like they were trying to control the media and infringe on free speech. By Wednesday, both companies backpedaled and apologized, reinstating Adams’ account.

By then, the damage had been done. The delay prolonged the story and allowed the hashtags #NBCfail and #Olympics to become trending topics with more than 32,000 mentions of the former and 14,000 mentions of @guyadams in a 24-hour period. And it emboldened Adams, whose followers increased from 4,500 prior to the incident to more than 18,800 at last count.

In this 24-hour news cycle that includes more than 340 million tweets per day, PR pros have to think of the social ramifications every time they deal with journalists. By nature, journalists are trained to be forthright, even critical at times, and if injustice is directed at one of their own, watch out.

When we talk to clients about dealing with the media on a critical or sensitive issue, the first thing you want to do is think through the end results, especially when dealing with the social world.  The second is to act quickly. Information travels quicker than ever before and a company’s reputation can be damaged in seconds. Right, Chick-Fil-A?

Twitter and NBC should have nailed down its messaging no later than Monday. Instead, they provided unnecessary oxygen and the issue lingered into the week.

The lesson for companies is simple.  Gather the facts, think through your actions in a self-critical manner, lay out a plan and respond in a timely manner. Every day you fail to fix the problem is a day spent feeding the beast of bloggers and media. The result is more speculation, criticism and potential damage to your reputation and your business.