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Eleven tips to managing a crisis or controversy on social media


Warning sign

They say that bad news travels fast, and nowhere does it travel faster than on social media. A rumour here, a few inflammatory tweets there, and suddenly your organization is trending for the wrong reasons. The good news is, however, that a social media crisis or controversy can be controlled and even turned into a positive opportunity.

Whether your sports organization is dealing with a disgruntled parent or a doping violation, we’ve got 11 great tips to help you weather a social media storm.


In Module 32 you will find:

1. Make a plan |  2. Keep your ears to the ground | 3. Evaluate whether you’re really in crisis |  4. Address negative comments head-on |  5. Respond quickly |  6. …BUT take a breath and think before you respond | 
7. Ask yourself what the negative commenter needs |  8. Take the conversation offline |  9. For larger crises, consider making a FAQ | 10. Keep key stakeholders informed |  11. Debrief

1. Make a plan

Women holding a sign that says Idea - Action - Plan

As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Sometimes, when it comes to a crisis like a doping violation, you’ll have time to prepare before the news reaches the public.

In these cases, create a simple crisis strategy that answers:

  • What will our key messages be? For example, if an athlete receives sanctions for a doping violation, you might want to affirm your organization’s commitment to the true sport principles and outline the steps you’re taking to educate your athletes on the subject to prevent further violations.
  • Who is authorized to speak about the crisis? If you don’t want athletes, coaches or other members to tweet about the crisis, tell them in advance.
  • How will you deal with social media comments about the crisis? (See below for more information). When will you respond, ignore or delete comments?

Often, however, a crisis will hit without warning. Be prepared with a strong social media policy that clearly outlines controversy policies and procedures.

Make sure to include:

  • A simple risk assessment chart that outlines how you will deal with negative online events. You may, for example, delete comments with profanity, ignore comments from “trolls,” respond to minor negative comments and call the Executive Director for any true crisis. This presentation offers an excellent risk assessment framework and checklist.
  • A chain of command for social media crises: Who will be responsible for commenting on negative situations? When will your Executive Director be looped in?
  • Samples responses to negative situations: While you do not want your responses to sound robotic or boilerplate, thinking through common scenarios will help you feel more confident when trouble hits.
  • An outline of any potential legal issues, such as confidentiality.

2. Keep your ears to the ground

A donkey's earsSocial media moves rapidly. The quicker you get wind of a crisis, the quicker you can react. Set up Google alerts or use free listening tools like SocialMention to listen for mentions of your organization, athletes, coaches or staff members.



3. Evaluate whether you’re really in crisis

The first step to dealing with a crisis is knowing whether you’re truly in one. A parent tweeting that her child didn’t have fun at your softball tournament won’t impact your reputation in the long run. A parent tweeting that her child sustained a serious injury because of unsafe equipment at your softball tournament might. Ask yourself whether the online situation poses a significant risk to your organization’s reputation. If you have an assessment framework in place, it’s easy to evaluate the threat.

4. Address negative comments head-on

It’s tempting to ignore or delete negative comments, but doing so only causes problems to fester. Addressing the crisis or controversy directly on your social media channels actually allows you to shape the conversation instead of letting it spiral out of control. Only delete comments that contain profanity, are spammy or contain hateful/intolerant messages. Respond to other negative comments in a polite way. (See below for more information).

5. Respond quickly

A hand clicking a stop watchOne study found that 89% of customers are more satisfied when they get an immediate response online and that most will go on to recommend your organization. A quick response also allows you to take charge of the conversation and establish your organization as the go-to source for official information. If you know you’ll be away from your social media accounts (such as being on vacation), make sure to note this in advance so that your followers don’t feel ignored if you don’t respond.

6. …BUT take a breath and think before you respond

No one likes to read negative comments about their organization online, but blasting out the first response that comes to mind can often put fuel on the fire. Instead, take a breath. Draft a response before sending it and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Remember: losing your temper is never an option.  

7. Ask yourself what the negative commenter needs

Sorry written in the skyAs in offline communication, a little empathy goes a long way when resolving online controversy. Sometimes people simply want to vent and will be satisfied with a simple, “I’m sorry you had that experience.” Often, however, the commenter is experiencing a real-world frustration that you can solve. For example, if a parent takes to Twitter to complain how difficult it is to register her child online in your programs, you could walk her through the process and turn her negative feelings about your organization into positive ones. If there are no legal implications, don’t forget the power of a simple apology.

8. Take the conversation offline

By taking the conversation to direct message, email or phone, you can solve the problem out of the public eye. Whether you’re a social media professional or just someone who comments on online articles in your free time, you’d also do well to remember the “rule of three.” If you can’t get your point of view heard in two responses or less, you’re unlikely to do so. On the third response, suggest taking the conversation offline or simply stop responding.


9. For larger crises, consider making a FAQ

Clipboard with a generic checklistIf your organization faces a serious threat to your reputation, consider making a simple page on your website that outlines the facts of the situation and your organization’s response. Provide a telephone number or email address for people to follow-up for more information. This allows the rumour mill to die down and helps you take the conversation offline.


10. Keep key stakeholders informed

In a crisis, every athlete, coach, volunteer and board member becomes a potential mouthpiece. Make sure they’re staying on-message with a simple email outlining the crisis, briefly detailing how you’d like them to respond and noting who they should contact for more information.


11. Debrief

People around the table at a meetingAfter the smoke clears, make sure to evaluate your response to the situation. What could you do better next time? Are your procedures effective or could they be changed?


It’s worth noting that the bulk of interactions that your sports organization will have online will be positive. True social media crises are rare in the amateur sports world. By following these steps, however, you can manage your organization’s online reputation under even the most challenging circumstances.

Do you have a question about crisis management on social media? Do you have a success story about how you navigated a challenging online event? Get in the conversation by tweeting @viaSportBC or emailing



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Social Media Toolkit

The social media toolkit for sport communicators is intended to help B.C. sport organizations, clubs and other sport-related organizations navigate the confusing and rapidly evolving word of social media.