AEO - Association of event organisers

Keeping your cool in a social media crisis – for event marketing professionals 


Keeping your cool in a social media crisis – for event marketing professionals 


Over the last 10 years, social media has become an intrinsic part of marketing events. It has enabled us to reach communities beyond the borders of traditional media, stretched our budgets and allowed us to engage in a dialogue never possible before.

Social media has without a doubt changed the way we market events. But as we are continually learning new ways to grow our social communities, we have also had to learn about its dangers and how a negative post can very quickly go viral and damage our brands.

Crisis can unfold online at an alarming speed.  Watching “shares” and negative comments rack up on your social media feeds – or even worse on national news feeds - is every event team’s worst nightmare.

In our hyperconnected world, where everyone with a smartphone is a reporter, a brand can be destroyed in the space of a news cycle. 

Last July, I was working very closely with FitzAllMedia who mastered with perfection how to prevent a potential social media crisis.

They were due to host DogFest, an outdoor festival at Knebworth House. 10 days before the event, the long term forecast was showing temperatures approaching 30 degrees. With over 20,000 visitors and 15,000 dogs expected to attend, running the event in these temperatures would not be possible as it would carry a very high welfare risk for the humans and animals. Long-term weather forecast is not always accurate though. It can fluctuate by a few degrees so the final decision on whether the event would run or not could not be taken too lightly or too early.

Comments about the heat started emerging on social media. They rallied the core team and acted immediately.

They reviewed their social communication and made a plan whilst being in constant contact with the Met Office and the animal welfare officer. All paid social activity promoting ticket sales was paused. They acknowledged the weather concerns and informed the audience how they were monitoring the situation. They showed total transparency and updated regularly. Each post was carefully watched and comments were answered very swiftly and when necessary taken offline.

They had a duty to keep their audience informed and they also had to do the right thing. Cancelling an event is the last thing an organiser wants to do. However, 4 days before the festival, the forecast was showing temperatures set to soar further. They therefore made the painful decision to cancel the event. The MD issued a detailed statement across all channels explaining how they had come to this decision.

Their honesty and transparency paid off. Social media was flooded with positive comments from visitors, exhibitors and sponsors applauding their brave decision to cancel the event commending them on putting the welfare of the animals and humans before financial benefits.

Their regular updates and total transparency humanised the brand to a much deeper level. They were not afraid to say how sorry they were to not be able to run the event.

But the response could have been totally different had they not planned and taken all the necessary steps. So what do we learn from this?

Here are some basics to help you handle an online crisis.  If you’re reading this because the crisis is already happening, then read quickly –speed is of the essence!

  • Act Fast

Evidence shows brands that take action quickly, will come out of the crisis better than those that delay their response.  What happens in the first 60 minutes – or the golden hour as it is known – is a good indicator of how the crisis will play out.   Don’t waste a moment, clear the decks and make it your priority. 

  • Rally the Crisis Team

Alert the crisis team to the emerging situation.  Have up to date contact details to hand – including out of hours/weekend numbers so the team can be contacted immediately.  

Appoint the crisis co-ordinator - the person calling the shots.  They must have an in-depth knowledge of the organisation and be sufficiently senior to have decision making capabilities.

  • Alert Key Stakeholders

Different crises will require the involvement of different people from within the organisation.  As a basic rule of thumb, ensure all communication functions and legal are fully aware from the outset.  Prepare front-line staff – anyone who answers calls from outside the organisation (venue, box office, registration company...).  The designated senior spokesperson should be involved early and kept informed of the situation as it evolves.

  • Get Your Facts Straight

Exactly what has happened? Gather relevant information as quickly as possible to assess the scope of the issue. Maintain perspective - a few rogue tweets do NOT make a crisis. Write it all down to keep track of emerging information and share with the core crisis team.

  • First Response

As soon as possible, get a statement up online.  It should be factual, honest and to the point.  Even if you don’t have all the information – or indeed a solution – it is imperative that you acknowledge that there is an issue and that it has the full attention of the organisation. 

  • Say Sorry

Particularly if people are involved – or if anyone has been hurt. Always follow a people-first strategy. Clarify the position with legal first to ensure messaging is not compromising the organisation.

  • Own Up

If you’ve got something wrong, say so. Customers appreciate brand honesty and it will go a long way towards rebuilding brand trust. It is OK to hold your hands up from the outset but inform your legal team first.

  • Stop Outbound Messages

You don’t want anything to contradict what you’re saying – or to trivialise the crisis.

  • Monitor Conversation in real time

Crises often take an unexpected turn – new footage emerges, new commentators join the conversation, additional information comes to light.

  • Share Frequent Updates

Don’t provide a running commentary, but do keep your audience updated. If you share specific timings, stick to them. It’s a good – if small – opportunity to start to rebuild brand trust.

  • Don’t Hate the Haters (at least not immediately)

People will want to vent their frustration and they need the opportunity to do so. However, it’s not open season on your brand, so try to take negative comments offline as quickly as possible onto DM, email or phone. If they won’t engage with you, try again.  Rule of thumb is to give them two chances.

  •  Monitor News Outlets

If the issue spreads from social into traditional media, the phones are about to start ringing. Ensure a well-briefed, well-prepared comms team is on hand to deal with the media. The same rules apply: Be honest, be open, say what you can, commit to putting things right.

  • Keep all Stakeholders Up to Date

From the senior team to frontline staff.  They are all your ambassadors and will likely be asked what happened (later in the pub).  Ensure they are briefed on what’s happened and how it has been resolved.

  • Learn Your Lessons

Once the crisis is over, take time to review how you did.  There are always lessons to be learned.  Look at every aspect with a focus on timings and organisational agility – and tweak your crisis plan for next time.   

And finally….

The worst time to start planning your crisis response is mid-crisis.  The biggest piece of advice is to spend time and effort mapping out what could go wrong – before it does.  Appoint the crisis team ahead of time.  Identify a crisis co-ordinator, as well as a deputy

List potential scenarios against their likelihood of happening, as well as the level of disruption they would create.  Prepare for these scenarios with the appointed crisis team.  Draft statements ahead of time.  Even if they need to be tweaked on the spot/mid crisis, it’s easier to do that than having to start from scratch. 

In short, be prepared! 

Marilyn Jarman will be delivering a series of marketing webinars in partnership with the AEO. The next one of the series will be on Friday 30th November and will cover social media best practice.

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