Crisis management is a critical consideration in most organisations.  By definition, a crisis in this sense is anything that may threaten operations and have a negative outcome if not addressed appropriately. 

Failure to do so has almost instant dire consequences - reputational damage, harm to stake holders and plunging share prices.  In the long term, a serious case of crisis mismanagement could end an organisation's existence.

Add in social media to the mix and this brings about a whole new set of challenges and, in this digital day and age where its use is almost ingrained in our cognitive function, it's not something that can simply just be avoided.

I'm sure United Airlines would agree that things spread fast on social media.  Their forcible removal of a doctor travelling to get to patients from an overbooked flight in 2017 went viral, sparking a social media catastrohe for the organisation.

When used properly, social media can help mitigate crises.  In the case of United Airlines, their actions instead induced further outrage.  A statement from their CEO was posted on Twitter a little while after the organisation had begun to cop backlash for the incident.  However, this received even further criticism for its lack of understanding and accountability.  Cue the satire, memes and other resulting digital condemnation.

So, what's the lesson to take from this?  If a mistake, misjudgement or error of any kind occurs, it's imperative to address audience concerns promptly.  Waiting until the profile of an issue grows even bigger (as is the case quite quickly on social media) only adds fuel to the fire.  Social media is a double-edged sword in the sense that it opens up the opportunity for instant criticism, yet unlike traditional media, it also enables rapid response.

Though how the response is constructed requires special attention.  In the hyper-critical social media setting, utmost care needs to be taken to ensure the appropriate tone and language is used.  A good guide to follow is less formal than a press release, but authoritative and descriptive enough to alleviate any concerns.

Depending on the extent to which the issue pervaded social media, another key consideration is the level of response to provide.  An example of the kind of ranging scale would be an issue like food poisoning.

If it were widespread, affecting many people, and gaining traction socially, then it may be appropriate to address the issue with a post from the organisation.  This provides a point of reference for consumers who may be affected by this which presents the organisation's perspective on the issue and the subsequent action that has been taken in response.

If, on the other hand, the hypothetical food poisoning issue is contained to something like a singular negative comment on a post, a sincere expression of concern and request to discuss the matter further privately (either through direct message, email or offline altogether) is likely to appease the consumer and also demonstrate to others that action has been taken.  The key here though is actually following through by looking into the issue and providing what any reasonable person would consider as adequate follow up and/or compensation.

Monitoring the online environment to track what is being said about your organisation and the sentiment attached to it is a good opportunity to address issues before they evolve - and hopefully ensure your club never has to weather a volatile social media storm.

(Gioenne Rapisarda, ClubsNSW Communications Officer, ClubLIFE June 2018)