5 Steps to Navigate a Social Media Crisis at your Event

Welcome to every event professional’s worst nightmare. When crisis hits how can you best navigate the tone and direction of your social media communications for your audience? Here are five key steps that will get you through the digital hard times.

You focus on all the right stuff. The music, lighting, content, and all the logistics that must be handled expertly in order to make an event come together. But what happens when your keynote speaker gets busted for drugs and it’s splashed all over the media the day before your event? Or someone tweets to your conference hashtag about an incident of Zika being reported 2 blocks from your event site? Whether you are dealing with a natural disaster, industry shakeup, pornographic tweetstorm, or human tragedy here is what you need to know.

5 Steps to Navigate a Social Media Crisis at your Event

1. Validate the Problem

First you will need to make sure that the situation at hand is truly a crisis. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “crisis” is “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.”

“The primary step is to understand whether or not this really is a crisis and then to rate the severity. Many people react to quickly based on how they feel about the crisis and this can draw attention to an otherwise small issue,” said Adele Cehrs, CEO of Epic PR Group and crisis communications expert.

“If you do decide that many of your members will be impacted by a crisis it is time to gather your Crisis Response Team, an outside crisis expert, and your legal team to discuss next steps and a potential response,” she said.


2. Collect All The Facts

Be sure that everyone handling the emergency is present and fully understands what’s happening because you don’t want miscommunication on your channels. Ask: What happened? Why? Who was involved? What happens next? What will we say?

The atmosphere was chaotic when a gaffe by hosts of the popular American daytime television show The View outraged nurses worldwide in September last year. The American Nurses Association (ANA) quickly used social media to start a campaign that touched 6.7 million people on Twitter and Facebook alone and created momentum for garnering more visibility for nursing.

“One of the first challenges was seeing what was said for ourselves. A member told us what had happened but it’s difficult to make an informed response with second hand information. We had already started working on next steps but couldn’t move forward until we saw the clip,” ANA’s social media engagement manager Jennifer Ek said.

Once the problem is validated and the facts collected, it’s important to consider the options available to your team.

“Get all the facts first. Understand your options and make sure in advance that the meeting planner has the authority to act on those options,” Cehrs said.

3. Empower Your Team

Attendees aren’t the only ones who have social media accounts. Once you have a plan in place, it does no good unless all members of your team understand it and know what’s expected of them. Your staff need to be prepared before a crisis strikes, so that just like you, they understand what to do and will be empowered to help your cause.

“I think the most important step is empowering staff before something like this happens. […] if everyone on the team understands the goals of the organization and how their role helps support the mission, the right call can be made based on the facts on the ground,” Ek said.

4. Prepare in Advance.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” and when thinking about managing a possible social media crisis, this is important advice to keep in mind. Asking your team questions and identifying solutions in advance of a challenge will lead to a better outcome.

“Create scenarios with your executives and planning committee because you can predict what will happen with a little imagination,” Cehrs said.

Some questions that you should consider, include:

  • Who is responsible for making the communications decisions on site?
  • Who will implement the updates?
  • Which communication channels will you use?
  • What is your Plan B? What do you do if key players are away?

5. Communicate Quickly (and Accurately) With Your Audience.

The most important thing you can do is to respond calmly and quickly with the facts. The first hours are crucial because people are waiting for a response from your organization. The longer you wait, the worse it is and the higher the likelihood of your audience making inaccurate guesses based on hearsay. Cehrs says this is where most organizations make their first and biggest mistake.

“They forget to tell members how they are addressing the problem as the crisis is happening. This is a mistake because it leads to rumor and speculation, which can make an issue that was a small crisis turn into a major one for the association,” Cehrs said.

Ek further explained the importance of responding quickly in today’s social landscape:

“Social media has changed the timeline of when our members and other followers expect a response. It has also given them a lot of power to speak directly to the media. So we decided to respond early on social media and gave nurses a way to channel their anger into a teaching moment.”

The Good and the Bad

While the dangers in managing a social media crisis are clear, every problem brings with it an opportunity and some organizations may find a chance to take a negative experience and spin it into something more inspirational.

“We learned that there are a lot more nurses on Twitter than we realized. Some may not talk a lot about work on social media but they are proud to be nurses and together they are a force to be reckoned with. And one of keys to this success was that it was their movement. We didn’t make it about us. We gave a clear call-to-action that moved the conversation in a positive direction and then stepped back and supported,” Ek said.

In Conclusion

Problems can get very bad, very quickly when everyone has a way to become a citizen journalist via social media. Damage to your organization’s reputation can happen within minutes unless you communicate effectively, take ownership, and are prepared for a social media crisis. But if you plan well with your team, a social media crisis could prove to advance your mission and inspire your audience. The choice is yours.

About The Author
KiKi L’Italien
KiKi L'Italien is a social media consultant specializing in associations and nonprofits. KiKi is the host for the weekly Association Chat on Twitter and Blab, an international speaker, and social media instructor for Mediabistro. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @kikilitalien.
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Julius Solaris
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