In a time when there was no internet (when could that have been – well roughly 30 years ago) if an event suffered some catastrophe very few people other than the delegates attending would have known about it. There was no internet and hence no social media channels to spread any messages.
The event organiser at the time would have dealt with the issue to get the event back on track and that would have been the end of it. Yes, maybe some delegates may have mentioned what happened to their spouses or work colleagues but generally the situation would have been unknown to the outside world.
If we now fast forward to today we have a very different scenario. The internet is here, mobile phones are now very advanced computers with amazing (in most) photo capability and the volume of social media channels to disseminate information and messages grows on a daily basis.
Going back to our catastrophe (however it is defined – we could use any number of descriptions such as disruption or loss or crisis or incident) and now the world via social media can find out all about what’s happened at the event. This could be a disaster for the event organiser, especially if event risk has been left to one side (on the basis it will never happen at our event) and not been considered fully.
Suddenly the event organiser has not only the burning issue to deal with but he or she has now added crisis control and reputational management to their burden.
But the other edge of the sword of social media is the beneficial impact it can have for the prepared event organiser. Being that social media channels can spread messages at the speed of light if there is an incident that leads to disruption (or something worse) people can find out about it there and then. Plus they can be asked for help in spreading the word to keep everyone aware of the situation as it unfolds.
At one of the events I worked on (a good example of disruption) we had a power outage during the live event which was being streamed from the exhibition centre across the globe. It wasn’t a situation we wanted but we made the best of it. We kept the remote delegates up to speed by using the social media channels and actually carried on the discussion with them through twitter whilst the power issue was resolved. Within the conference room itself we kept talking to the delegates that we had and kept moving the event forward. If we had stopped and worried about when the power would come back on we would have experienced a very different reaction from our delegates. Basically we put our crisis plan into play.
Using social media really helped with our crisis and looking back it saved our reputations. In fact there was a lot of goodwill coming to us from delegates as they could see how much effort we were making to overcome our challenge. It probably helped enhance our reputations.
I believe that reputations take a long time to develop but they can be lost in minutes and it leaves me puzzled by organisers that don’t do their utmost to consider their reputation at every single stage of the event; before, during and after. Can it be that once the event has finished the organiser has forgotten about social media messages and blogs on the internet affecting their reputation as an organiser? Really is that their thinking? If so, their thinking is flawed.
The event organiser that thinks about their reputation as they get to grips with event risk is the one that will come out on top of their competition. In my experience, reputation is important and that is why I think social media really is a double edged sword.