As your attendees are headed to your meeting, they see a post on social media about huge protests and social unrest happening in the streets around your host property. Are you ready to respond? How will you keep your attendees informed about incidents that affect them, especially when they are on site or en route to the event?
David Lau, a counterterrorism and security professional who delivers training to U.S. federal agencies, also helps organizations prepare for any active threats during meetings and events. He says that as you develop your own plan, one key component is smooth communication—with your team, hospitality partners, your attendees, and sometimes even the public.
Having a social media component in your crisis-communication plan will help you inform your key audiences should something bad happen—no matter if it's social protests right outside your host hotel, a bomb threat, a labor strike, or a Nor’easter that closes your venue and cancels flights. Not only will a detailed plan help you keep everyone informed, but it also can help protect your reputation and brand. Here are some things to consider.
1. Create the plan ahead of time and share it widely.
Identify which types of events will trigger the social media aspects of the plan—and be as exhaustive as possible. When do you implement the plan? Do you need approval to post certain content? How will you get that approval or feedback in real time?
Try to consider as many scenarios as possible, and what information you would need to distribute and to whom. Put yourself in the shoes of your guests—consider what you’d need to know in a particular situation and how you’d access it. Perhaps a text message to participants would achieve information needs in a fast-moving situation, whereas a series of tweets or Facebook posts could provide information that might be appropriate for a wider audience and a less-urgent situation.
2. Identify which team members are responsible for implementing parts of the plan.
Those responsible for each element of the plan should have a clear understanding of their role, and feel empowered to jump into action should the need arise. However, you should create redundancies so that there is more than one person who's able to handle each activity. Provide ample training in different scenarios to ensure that the team is comfortable with their roles.
Also, coordinate with your venue’s security team in the planning phase so that you know who is in charge there, should you need to activate the plan.
3. Educate your attendees about where to get information.
When you receive safety information on an airplane, it’s clear that a crewmember will provide instructions in the event of an emergency. But where would your attendees get information during an active threat? If this is an external or public meeting, you might advise attendees to follow your Twitter feed for updates. If you have a mobile event app, this might be the primary place your participants can go for information in real time. In some cases, going “old-school”—using a facility's sound system for announcements—might be the most effective communication channel. Think through each scenario.
4. Rehearse your emergency response plan.
As Lau says, “The mind navigates the body.” When in a fast-moving situation, your crisis communications team must be able to rely on their earlier rehearsals to ensure they can respond to a situation quickly and properly. Rehearsing will also help you to identify any gaps in your plan or adjustments that need to be made ahead of time.
5. Be ready in case news hits social media without you.
What if something happens at your event, and your participants are sharing it on social media? While you shouldn’t try to censor attendees, you should be ready to respond to any misinformation in real time. Share whatever facts you can and ensure that you follow up with information as it becomes available. Trying to hide information once it’s out there could backfire, so always default to being as responsive and transparent as possible to maintain credibility and attendees' confidence.
6. Establish guiding principles that you can apply in any situation.
It bears repeating: Be as responsive and transparent as possible, even if it is just to post that you’re aware of the situation and that you’re still assessing it. It will reassure your attendees that you know what’s going on and are taking steps to address it. And always close the loop; after an event, be sure to let your audiences know how a situation was resolved. Finally, be human! People connect with people, and your audience will be more sympathetic if you’re able to demonstrate your humanity as you respond to a crisis situation.
A good communications plan that includes a social media component can help make a situation less stressful for everyone. You probably can't think of every possible scenario, nor is social media the be-all and end-all for your crisis communication needs. But overall, preparation gives your team the ability to be flexible, resilient, and calm when it's most important.
This is not intended to be a complete crisis communications guide, but a starting point for considering the social media aspect of one. Planners can review this article with a more complete list of instructions: Inside Guide to Crisis Management at Events, as well as this one: Developing an Emergency Communication Plan. And besides social media, these steps could be applied to other communication channels, such as your event app.