Think about the last event you hosted. Chances are your team tried to plan for every contingency, but between technology failures and bad weather, it’s virtually impossible to cover all bases. So how can an event staff manage its attendees’ reactions to these kinds of disruptions? Two words: social media.

You need a social media response strategy in your back pocket so that you’re prepared for the unpredictable — whether it’s your guest speaker running late, your venue falling through, or Mother Nature being uncooperative. When severe weather struck during the Lollapalooza music festival in August, for example, event organisers used Twitter to keep its nearly 400,0000 attendees and the public updated about its plans to evacuate Chicago’s Grant Park.

With more than three billion social media users worldwide, it’s one of your most powerful tools for reaching attendees. When it comes to managing a crisis and avoiding a backlash, you need to move quickly. Here’s how:

Focus your event’s social strategy

Before jumping headfirst into any social network — regardless of how popular it is — you need to answer two key questions: Are your event attendees actually using this social network, and does this network make sense for your communication?

While things clearly can go wrong on social media (bad customer reviews, misguided employee posts, etc.), you should take advantage of what social media can do right for your company. Here are three ways to get you started:

1. Have an 'in-case-of-emergencies' social plan

Event crises require immediate responses, leaving no time to draw up plans on the fly. Create a crisis playbook before the event, and make sure it includes protocols for your social media response if things go awry.

For instance, the Surviving Actors convention team had to recover from a major hiccup when it lost its venue less than 24 hours before an event. The team needed to find a new site within its budget; inform every speaker, actor, and vendor; and update every team member facilitating the event. So the company broadcast the word “NEWSFLASH” across all its social media channels, using it to keep its internal and external parties up-to-date on the new plan.

Make sure the whole team knows about these in-case-of-emergency scenarios and how to communicate in each one. Identify who gives final approval for posting a message, who will hit “post” on your team’s social media platform of choice, and other social media logistics. This degree of planning will help things run a lot more smoothly if a breakdown occurs.

2. Re-evaluate scheduled content

Sometimes, the difference between a minor hurdle and a major incident is how you react to last-minute issues. When it comes to social media reactions, don’t be afraid to follow your instincts if it seems better to post nothing at all.

When an event goes off-track, your team needs to think about what it’s posting on all its respective social media accounts. If the situation has your audience miffed, chances are that you’ll want to postpone the #wcw post that’s been queued up for the past week. Monitor your team’s planned and current communication so you don’t end up committing another major faux pas.

3. Don’t get defensive

If your eventgoers are upset, don’t try to talk them out of feeling what they’re feeling. Sure, it’s not your fault if caterers run out of canapés or if an unexpected storm breaks out, but being defensive doesn’t help your guests feel heard.

Stay calm, understand why your attendees are unhappy, and remain professional in your handling of the situation on social. Maintain an understanding demeanor, and avoid any suggestion that the complainant is overreacting — or worse, lying.

If the feedback you’re hearing seems harsh, be extra sure to react with a personal, positive response. Make sure your guests know that someone is taking responsibility for the problem and working to ensure it’s a one-time occurrence.

Nobody wants to think about an event going sideways, but it’s never a bad idea to expect the unexpected. Make sure your social media strategy is ready in case those what-ifs turn into what-nows.


By Katie Sawyer, content writer at Eventbrite

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