A recent survey on Internet privacy and reputation management points to some interesting twists on the road to integrating meetings with social media.

The research needn’t put a damper on new strategies and technology options that bridge the gap between on-site and online audiences. But the May 26 release from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reveals some basic online privacy expectations that should be built into the plan for any hybrid or virtual meeting.

“Reputation management has now become a defining feature of online life for many Internet users,” the Pew study concludes.

“Many users are learning and refining their approach as they go—changing privacy settings on profiles, customizing who can see certain updates, and deleting unwanted information about them that appears online,” writes lead author Mary Madden, a Pew senior research specialist. “Contrary to the popular perception that younger users embrace a laissez-faire attitude about their online reputations, young adults are often more vigilant than older adults when it comes to their online identities.”

Here are five simple steps that meeting professionals can take to anticipate participants’ concerns about online reputation management.

1. Speaker contracts should explicitly request permission to post session content, handouts, visuals, and biographical information online. Clarify whether the speaker permits online distribution of his or her material by the act of supplying it, or whether access is limited to on-site participants.

2. To back up the contractual obligation, planners can give speakers a quick summary of the online marketing strategy of which their materials will be a part. Wider distribution is usually in everyone’s interest. But if a speaker objects, the choice has to be respected.

3. Participants should be asked to specify their online privacy preferences from the moment they register for a conference, indicating how freely and widely they want their information and content to circulate. They should be reminded of those privacy settings when they join an online network associated with the event.

4. If information and comments are flowing into a conference from the online world, it’s just as likely that on-site content will reach outside audiences. That’s not a bad thing. Many of us see closer integration between on-site and online audiences as an essential survival strategy for meetings. But when people gather at a conference, they may need a reminder that their face-to-face comments are being broadcast beyond the four walls of the meeting facility. It’s for them to decide whether they need to edit or nuance their own words on site, to whatever extent they would do that online.

5. If a session or a topic on site is truly sensitive, the conference’s social media policy (you have a social media policy, right?) should indicate when it makes sense to take the discussion offline. Meeting owners and planners should take the initiative to shut down the online connection when privacy is a foreseeable issue, and participants should have the right to request online privacy for specific comments. That may be inconvenient, but it avoids the risk that an online component will shut down the forthright, spontaneous dialogue that is the true takeaway from any face-to-face meeting.

Have you run into these issues at any of your meetings? How have you addressed them?



With thanks to Joan Eisenstodt and Julie McKown for advice on the original draft.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to mitchell@theconferencepublishers.com.