As your attendees are headed to your meeting, they see a post on social media about a bomb threat made against the venue. Are you ready to respond? How will you keep your attendees informed about events that affect them, especially when they are onsite at your event?
During a recent MeetingsNet webinar (now available for viewing on demand), David Lau, a counterterrorism and security professional who currently delivers training to U.S. federal agencies, focused on preparing for an active threat during your meeting or event. As you develop your plan, he said, a key component is communication—with your team, hospitality partners, your attendees, and even the public.
Having a social media component to your crisis communications plan will help you inform your key audiences should the worst happen—even if “the worst” is a nor’easter that closes your venue and cancels flights. Not only will having a plan help you keep everyone informed on these fast-moving communications platforms—it also potentially can protect your brand. Here are some things to consider.
1. Create a 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 and 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, but a series of tweets would provide information that might be appropriate for a wider audience and a less-urgent situation.
2. Identify which team members will be responsible for implementing the plan.
Those responsible for aspects of the plan should have a clear understanding of their role, and feel empowered to jump into action should the need arise. Create redundancies so that there is more than one person responsible for every step of activity. Provide ample training in different scenarios to ensure that the team is comfortable with their roles.
Align with your venue’s security team in the planning phase so that you know who is in charge 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 wish to advise attendees to follow your Twitter feed for updates. If you have a mobile app, this might be the primary place your participants can go for information in real time. In some cases, going “old-school”—using your sound system for announcements—might be the most effective communication channel.
4. Rehearse your emergency response plan.
As Lau said, “The mind navigates the body.” When in a fast-moving situation, your crisis communications team will be able to rely on their earlier rehearsals to ensure that they can respond to the situation. 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 lead with being as responsive and transparent as possible.
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 in how you respond to a crisis situation.
A good communications plan—including a social media component—can help make a situation potentially less stressful. But this article does not attempt to address every possible scenario, nor is social media the be-all and end-all for your crisis communication needs. At the end of the day, preparation leads to resiliency (as Lau said) and having a plan in place will provide some peace of mind, just in case.
Note: 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 2015 article with a more complete list of instructions: Inside Guide to Crisis Management at Events. Also, while this article specifically addresses social media, these steps could be applied to other communication tools, including your event app.