It’s always been the event professional’s job to ensure an event goes off without a hitch. But sometimes, despite your best intentions, something goes wrong. The difference between now and the past, however, is that when an executive spouts the wrong fact or an attendee shouts a negative opinion or the women’s bathroom overflows, everyone—both on site and online—now not just has an opinion to share, but also a means to share it far beyond the ballroom. Word can spread like wildfire in a matter of seconds through social media, whether the issue is something as small as the room temperature, or as big as an evacuation of the venue.
It’s no longer a question of whether you should include social media in your communication plan; it must be an essential piece of your strategy. Here are five tips to get started, focusing on the types of issues that regularly occur at events.
1. Identify all possible outcomes of the interactions with your program, venue, catering, hotel partner, speakers, Wi-Fi, baggage storage, mobile app, etc. Draft sample responses to all outcomes in 140 characters or less and include helpful links to direct people.
For example, what if you receive a complaint about the temperature of the room? (Who hasn’t?!) Here are variations of responses to draft:
• If they alert us to the problem, but don’t specify location:
-Thanks for alerting us. Where are you located? We will immediately alert staff to assess. EVENT HASHTAG
• If they specify the problem & location:
-Thanks for alerting us, staff is on its way to appropriately adjust temperature. EVENT HASHTAG
• If our team is already addressing the problem:
-Thanks for reaching out. Our staff is aware and adjusting appropriately. EVENT HASHTAG
• If they complain generally about temperature, but there will be no change (due to general attendee comfort):
-Thanks for the feedback. We are monitoring room temperature to keep climate in a condition most suitable for the general audience. EVENT HASHTAG
2. Have a feedback center. There are many apps and/or websites that can collect attendee feedback. Let attendees know they are heard and remember to respond in a calm and collected tone. Encourage them to explain further so that you can take their feedback into consideration. Giving attendees an outlet to do so can be as simple as creating a Google Form with a live link to the response on social media.
For example, draft a response like this, “We appreciate your feedback! Please use the session survey [or this form] to provide us with more details: LINK”
3. Identify other social media sources and helpful links. What are the local fire and police department Twitter handles? Local news sources? This is for the situations where the “issue” may start to creep into “crisis.” Be prepared for the scale of the problem to escalate by having contacts for reliable news and local sources. In case an emergency, or even a simple question, should arise, be sure to have helpful links shortened and easily accessible. (Like evacuation routes or venue maps).
For example, during a 20,000-person conference, an active shooter was identified about 10 blocks away from the convention center. We had approximately 15 minutes before we predicted the news would spread throughout the conference attendees on social media. We needed to make the right call so we didn’t put our conference attendees in danger or give them a premature or false sense of panic. We were able to calmly keep attendees informed by retweeting the local police department’s live updates. All were safe and well in the end, but attendees were concerned for their safety in the meantime, and reasonably so. Getting information straight from the source helped keep attendees at ease.
4. Identify roles within team. Roles should clearly identified and communicated within the team prior to the event. This includes not only your social media team, but your planning and production team as well. If the problem tips the scale to become a “crisis” rather than an “issue”—say, the host company makes a major programming mistake—you may need a statement or brief video announcement from a more senior-level manager or the CEO.
5. Consistently monitor your hashtag. The sooner you can identify and communicate with a slanderer, the quicker you can distribute a solution. Sometimes people just want to be acknowledged; sometimes it will take a more direct action to resolve the situation. Either way, you don’t want anyone to spread negativity, so it’s a good idea to nip it in the bud sooner rather than later. Remember to monitor variations of your hashtag too; there will always be attendees who get it wrong. Be proactive: Communicate directly with them, then direct them back to your conference-wide hashtag conversation.
For example, do not delete negative posts unless absolutely necessary. Respond with a cool, calm, and collected statement like, “We appreciate your perspective. We’d like to invite you to call our Director of XYZ to discuss further, please PM for details.” The point is to respond publicly to show that you’ve taken care of the issue.
The most important aspect to including social media in a communication plan is to have a team of experts in place to manage and execute it. This team should be integrated into the production team, planning team, program team, etc., as they are the ears and voice of the entire organization. This also goes for your post-con. Your social media team should collect feedback and responses (with links to the original posts) for organic attendee feedback. It may be worth considering hiring extra hands on deck to help your team accomplish communication objectives and to have fresh eyes on social at all times.
Be sure the communication plan includes contact information to anyone that may have an answer to any of the foreseen questions or emergencies. You’d be surprised at some of the questions that arise. (Tip: Develop your communication plan in a Google Doc for real-time updates and editing capabilities.)
Whether you train your own social media team or hire one, these social media tips are meant to equip event professionals with tools that will enable every event to go above and beyond expectations. Have you covered something else in your crisis communication plan with social media? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Kelsey Dixon is cofounder and managing partner at davies + dixon, a digital marketing firm servicing the hospitality/tourism/events industry. Kelsey’s experience in sales management with Avon in New York City inadvertently led her to the hospitality world. While digitizing processes and building marketing strategies for a Pennsylvanian golf resort, she partnered with visitors bureaus to lead sales efforts in East Coast planner communities. Her work in strategy, social media, and events has received local and national recognition. She cofounded davies + dixon in February of 2015 during her move to Seattle, Wash. Her firm is a founding partner at the Association for Women in Events and has been recognized by PCMA for "Best in Show 2016." Kelsey is a thought leadership blogger for Association Marketer and has spoken for various regional conferences with both MPI and ILEA on digital marketing in events.