Do you have nightmares about what could go wrong at your event? Who would step up to the plate if the unthinkable, or merely the unanticipated, were to occur, and what would they say? Alex Plaxen, events and communications expert and president and founder of Little Bird Told Media, addressed these questions and more in a recent Visit Alexandria webinar. Learn how your team can anticipate crises and confidently communicate to minimize windfall.
Start your crisis communication prep by reviewing these questions: Who is responsible for your event social media? Do they know crisis communications is part of their job? Are they trained in crisis communications? Based on the answers to these questions, are you prepared?
Plaxen finds that, in his audiences, roughly two-thirds of those responsible for crisis communications do not know that it is in their job description, while even fewer are trained in the field. Here are reasons to advocate for crisis prep and first steps for your team to take.
3 Things at Risk
The ripple effects of ineffective crisis communications can be staggering. If attendees do not find answers from you, the event authority, then they will continue searching and likely encounter misinformation, and even share it further. This information dearth or inaccurate information can cause long-term attendee distress. In addition to and because of this emotional toll, your organization will suffer brand damage, even the risk of folding. Crisis communications prep is an insurance plan against these repercussions.
3 Simple Steps to Take
1. Audit Vulnerabilities
- Begin by gathering your crisis communications team, which should contain your CEO, top PR executives, legal counsel and department heads. Once assembled, take the time to frankly and openly brainstorm potential crises. Plaxen’s 10 crisis categories range from natural crisis such as a hurricane or earthquake to a confrontation crisis such as an altercation, to technological crisis like a loss of power, and beyond. Many of these events may seem unlikely, so it is helpful to perform risk assessment matrix (see below). The matrix is a fluid exercise, subject to changes over time as the event gets closer or updated information, such as increasing negative discourse on social media or impending weather systems.
2. Create a Plan
- Identify spokespeople. While you may have a primary spokesperson, such as your CEO or top PR executive, you may enlist an alternative mouthpiece based on the nature of the crisis. For example, in the event of a bankruptcy, a chief financial officer may be the best representative. Remember that during crises, your team must transform into customer service experts, rather than marketers. Consider hiring a customer service consultant or finding online courses to sharpen this skillset.
- Establish monitoring & notification systems. To quote Digital Marketer Kim Garst, “Conversations are happening, whether you’re there or not.” Even if you do not host on every social channel, you should be following the conversation surrounding your brand and event. Research monitoring platforms such as Hootsuite, a free platform, and Mention.com, which can even share sentiment analysis surrounding mentions. Then, solidify your system for real-time alerts, be it chatbots, SMS messaging, push notifications from your app and even your speakers themselves.
- Create holding statements. In the event of a crisis, you will likely be unable to supply all the answers at once. Consult with your legal team to craft pre-approved holding statements, vague enough to cover multiple situations, which will reassure your attendees until you provide further updates. For example, “We have implemented our crisis response plan, which places the highest priority on the health and safety of our guests and staff.” If you’d rather not post on social, your holding statements can re-direct to your website or announce that you will be emailing attendees with updates.
3. Know Your Plan
- “Fear is healthier than ego.” A realistic grasp on what could harm your event, affect your attendees and damage your brand should spark action. Yet laying the foundation for crisis communications is not enough. It is imperative that responsibilities are clearly delegated ahead of time and the plan is strategically shared so that your team can hit the ground running.
Social Guidelines: Who, What, When, Where and Why
As you incorporate social media into your crisis plan and make decisions in the moment, determine who will speak on behalf of the organization, what they will say, where they will communicate, when & how often will they share, and why they would speak at all.
- Reason: First, verify the volume and legitimacy of the crisis itself. Confirm its source and scope. Plaxen notes, “The hardest part of crisis communications is knowing when not to speak.”
- Reaction: If responding, gauge the appropriate reaction by determining your target audience, clarifying the information or answers you wish to convey and striking an appropriate tone, neither overreacting nor minimizing.
- Response: Consider your platform. Are you replying to one or multiple users? Is this best posted on social media for the public, or simply as a direct message to a disgruntled guest?
With thorough prep work, methodical decision-making and confident communications, your social channels can serve as a key asset, rather than a liability, to address a crisis.
Header Image Credit: Unsplash user @headway.io