can be a blessing for meeting professionals: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social channels can spread the word about events and generate dialogue with attendees. But engagement also has its risks. What happens when someone complains about your meeting online?
This question was addressed in a session led by Adele Cehrs, president of Epic PR Group, Alexandria, Va., at the Convention Industry Council’s CMP Conclave 2011. With the new threat of what she terms a “social media flash crisis,” Cehrs discussed how meeting organizers can prepare for and respond to online criticism—from the constructive to the disparaging.
The challenge, say Cehrs, is that many attendees today use social media to voice customer service issues. This could be as simple as a tweet about cold temperatures in the meeting room or something more provocative such as a Facebook post about bedbugs at the headquarters hotel or the lack of integrity of a presenter.
To get ready for negative social media, Cehrs urges organizations to follow these guidelines:
Assemble a crisis response team. Include public relations professionals, board members, legal, or other people in a position to make decisions.
Create a policy. Spell out when posts will be deleted versus when they will warrant a response.
Push positive content. Cehrs suggests creating an “event editorial calendar,” of material that will be posted in the lead-up to the event.
Influence the influencers. “Events have fans,” says Cehrs. “Find yours and convince them to engage with your event.” She suggests providing them with the talking points that you want to get across about your event.
Monitor, monitor, monitor. You can’t address what you don’t know, says Cehrs, so assign staff to monitor Twitter and Facebook before and during the event, a minimum of three times a day.
When Bad Posts Go Bad
In general, negative social media comments are not intended to hurt your organization, Cehrs believes, but posters do want to be heard. When something negative is posted, remember that “it’s not personal (usually),” says Cehrs. “React rationally, not emotionally.”
Decide if a response is necessary. Cehrs suggests three questions to help decide: Who is affected? How are they affected? What is the outcome potential?
Be transparent and positive. If the post warrants a response, be honest. Tell the poster or tweeter how you’re working to address the issue. Attendees want to know you’re listening. Use positive language.
Keep an ear to the ground. If you choose not to respond because you don’t want to draw attention to a problem, continue to monitor the comments closely to make sure they don’t grow into a viral conversation. “Putting your head in the sand isn’t a strategy,” Cehrs says.
Hit the delete key. Rude or offensive comments don’t require a response and, in fact, should be taken down. “Deleting is a necessity,” says Cehrs.
Sometimes you need to pick up the phone. Some issues are resolved best one-on-one, rather than one-to-many.