5 Tips on how to handle your social presence when the shit hits the fan
The current situation we are facing with the COVID-19 virus causing the forced closure of mass gatherings of 500+ people (at the time of writing) across many countries including Australia and New Zealand has put an unforeseeable strain on everyone within our industry.
We know it can take time to hear from your advisors, legal team and various partners before you can make a solid plan on what steps to take next. But whether you are planning to cancel your event, postpone, or still have no idea what you are doing, you need to be engaging with your participants regardless.
We have seen from various clients and event organisers that if you keep quiet it is only a matter of time before you start receiving nasty emails threatening legal action and negative social media backlash.
You may think avoiding social media chaos is not high on your priority list at the moment with everything going on but by keeping your participants informed and calm you will ensure they keep them coming back next season.
You need to put in the ground work now to ensure you still have an engaged audience for when you reopen your event or start organising other events. Maintaining open communication with your audience is so important for brand integrity and also maintaining trust with your most important customers, ie the people that show up to your events!
Here are our tips on how you can avoid a social media crisis in the midst of the pandemic chaos:
Tip 1: Prior Planning
This doesn’t mean you need to foresee every specific grievance your audience may have (we definitely weren’t expecting to be in lockdown right now). Instead, this means that you can assume grievances and issues will come up and you need to know what to do when they arise. Prior preparation helps you keep a clear head during the stress of a crisis.
- Whose responsibility is it - You need to have a primary spokesperson nominated to make the executive decision about what to do when an issue does arise. We recommend this be an overall collaborative response but chances are your team will be split on deciding what to do, you need someone to be the final decision maker.
- How to respond - Have a rough guide in place on how to respond to negativity online. This will depend on what the issue is, but you can have a rough outline in place to keep everything consistent. E.g. Will you respond publicly? Privately? Keep or delete negative comments? Don’t worry we have a rough guide to help you below if you are unsure.
- Instant responses - To general issues or questions that you can assume will arise, we recommend having pre-written canned responses or templates. This saves a lot of time not only for your customer service team but also avoids your participant getting angrier waiting for a response. It also means that everyone is receiving the same consistently worded response which is of particular importance when dealing with legally sensitive issues.
Tip 2: Stay ahead of the issues
When it comes to issues out of your control such as the coronavirus initiatives shutting down events or natural disasters meaning your venue is unsafe you need to see these issues coming before your participants do. We know you may be stressed, freaking out and unsure of what to do but you need to put your participants safety first and be prepared for all outcomes, which should be documented in your risk management plan.
- Current events - Stay ahead of SES warnings, weather changes and government protocols in your event region. If you are not local to where you are holding the event you need to have alerts on for the region to stay ahead of your participants, you must know what is going on in the area before they do.
- Networking - We find having connections to individuals whether it is your sponsors, local council or other organisations within the industry is the best way to stay connected. Our industry is a community, you need to treat others as your allies not your competitors, if any environmental, social or physical factors are affecting your event, chances are they are affecting them too.
Tip 3: How do I respond to issues on social media?
The actual content of your response will differ according to the issue. But here is a rough guide on the tips we make sure to follow each time we respond to issues online whether they are negative or just general issues.
- On brand- Keep your tone and voice the same as you do with your other posts.
- Do not blame anyone- Never blame anyone for the issue, this includes yourself. Understand and empathise with your audience but do not say who’s fault the issue is.
- Make sure to empathise- Never say “I’m sorry… but”, this is ingenuine. Try to see the issue from their perspective and understand why it is important to them.
- Switch the medium- If you can, you should call the person with the issue (this only works really if they are willing to discuss further or if they are a registered participant). As we all know people can be keyboard warriors and we find 9 out of 10 times when we get the chance to talk to these difficult people the issue is resolved much faster and their attitude often changes completely.
- Kill them with kindness- We know how hard it can be to bite your tongue when difficult customers or participants are getting overly angry or negative but make sure you do. If you are unsure if your tone is too rude/harsh get a colleague to read over it before you send.
- Give it a personal touch- People are less likely to be kind if your response sounds like an automated robot response. If your event needs to be cancelled or there is a serious external issue at hand, giving a personal touch can help to keep your audience’s trust and show transparency through a difficult time. E.g. when cancelling or postponing an event a lot of our clients sign off their post/press release with their name to make it more personal for the audience.
- Know when to stop- This is quite self explanatory, no need to keep explaining once you have resolved the issue. Give the person your public email or phone number and they can call if they need more of an explanation. (In other words: Know when to let it go!)
Tip 4: Knowing how to respond to negativity online
In a world consumed by social media and keyboard warriors negative comments are inevitable. The main thing you need to decipher with these is to realise what is a legitimate issue and what is just an internet “troll” hurling slander and abuse. Here is how we deal with both:
- If comments are slander you can remove, hide, block or delete but NEVER delete if they are legitimate grievances
- Do not engage with negative comments/slander- Negative comments with no backing are not a threat to your operation, you have no reason to comment back and try to defend yourself if it is not a legitimate issue.
- If a user repeatedly is sending you slander or abuse we recommend blocking them completely. If they have a legitimate grievance try to resolve this instead but if there is none do not be scared to block and delete.
- Do not delete- you will lose trust with your audience if you try to sweep your issues under the rug.
With these legitimate grievances you can respond publicly, privately or both
- Public responses- Public responses show transparency with your audience, also help to eliminate if others are having this grievance too. Follow our steps from Tip 3 (above) to formulate your response.
- Private responses- If you prefer to privately respond to issues you must also release a public comment on the post. (E.g. “Thankyou for your response, I have messaged you privately in regards to your query, if any other participants are having the same issue we urge them to email us at …”) This works better if it is a data issue and you need private information from the participant to resolve it. For all other issues we recommend a public response to avoid confusion and similar issues from other participants
Tip 5: Let's talk specifically about Coronavirus!
We made this article relatively broad to ensure you can use it to navigate through any social media crisis but we know what you really need to know right now. CODIV-19 has caused many of you to postpone, cancel or run contingency events and you need to know how to best communicate this with your audience.
By this stage most of Australia is understanding the severity of the situation at hand and understands the difficult position you, as an event organiser, are in.
Here are our tips on how to deal with this pandemic from a social standing: (To view information on how to deal with this situation from a client perspective including refunds, cancellations and more click here)
- Be clear with your audience (Even when you don’t know what is going on)- Let your participants and followers know that you are working with your team, advisors and sponsors to achieve the best and safest outcome possible for everyone.
- Give them a deadline for information- If you have no outcome as of yet, give them a date that they can expect to receive it. The main reason people are getting angry about these issues is that they are not informed or kept in the loop. If you are clear about when exactly they will know more details this avoids a lot of your issues.
- Stay calm and DON’T GET DEFENSIVE! - We have seen many organisers' initial response to the issue to jump on the defence. Refusing refunds, unkind responses to participants or a social media blackout are not the way to keep your audience around for future events. Stay calm, understand why your audience is stressed and give them a clear answer to what is happening.
- Get on all channels- When you do know what your plan is, release the same message on every channel. You cannot just solely send an email because you will then be faced with participants who haven’t received or checked their email being angry and confused. Update your Facebook, Instagram, eDM, Twitter etc and your website to keep your participants informed. If your event is very soon and this is a short notice cancellation or postponement make sure to sms and follow up with all participants thoroughly.
- Don’t stop keeping them informed- On Facebook you can pin your press release to the top of the page to make sure it is the first thing participants see on your page. (Go into the options tab on a post to do this) Alternatively, if you find you are getting many questions about the same issues, set up an FAQ.
- FAQ setup- This can either be on your website (direct your social media audience to it via a link), you can pin a post to the top of you Facebook page with your top FAQ’s (can be done as a graphic or text post) or you can set this up directly on Facebook, here is a helpful tutorial on how to do so (https://mashable.com/2011/03/28/how-to-add-facebook-questions/)
Our overall advice during our current or any social media crisis is to stay honest, helpful and informative with your audience. Now is the time to be nurturing your audience rather than turning against them. Remember, participants are the cornerstone of any event and we need to hold onto our relationships with these individuals if we want our industry to bounce back from this crisis.