Back in the old days of pens, paper, and print, we used to communicate with our customers, our visitors, and internally, much more slowly. And a great deal of this communication was a one-way affair.
Nowadays, we're all connected, all of the time - whether it's twitter, email, or good old fashioned telephone calls; mobile and digital technology have lowered the cost and raised the flexibility of communication at all levels. You would think this should be a good thing, but it does have its drawbacks, particularly on the web and on social media.
Everything is a conversation because when you share the traffic conditions or weather forecast for your event on your channel, there's always an opportunity for someone to reply. If you are lucky, you get a share, thanks, or a helpful comment. But what do you do about the 1% of people who post unhelpful, confusing, misleading and sometimes downright untruthful things about your event, just as it is about to start?
First things first, don't let any comments or posts like this derail you from dealing with the actual event. It's easy to become distracted by negative comments in the public domain, but your event needs you! Neither Deirdre from Stockport nor Keith from Bristol are running your event. No matter how personal they make it, the decisions you make are your own to take.
If you have the time, it is worth engaging even with obvious trolls - but keep a safe distance! Speak to the audience as a whole and not the individual, and don't get embroiled in any kind of tit-for-tat exchange. Address what appears to be their concerns or observations, reply with clear, relevant information in an upbeat and helpful tone. Ignore any attempts to bait you into a futile discussion or argument, just repeat the information you gave earlier, making it the final statement on the matter.
At a recent event, some members of the public were convinced that we should cancel it due to hot (or what I would call ‘excellent’) weather conditions. Another similar show had recently been cancelled for the same weather issue elsewhere in the country but their facilities were far more limited than ours. Quite quickly, our social media channels were lighting up with self-appointed experts dropping their wisdom all over the place.
We had prepared extensively for this event, we had contingency plans in place, we had done all the risk-assessments and acted upon them. We knew that there was absolutely no reason to cancel the show. No amount of explaining this would have satisfied those who had decided they were the now the event organiser. So we moderated where we could, and made sure the right information went out in reply: that the show was going ahead as planned, and that we had put extensive measures in place to deal with the weather.
Event information needs to be easily found, consistent, and above all accurate. Keyboard warriors and self-appointed experts can pollute the web and social media with rogue information, and wherever you can you should remove or hide it, and reply with your prepared statement on the subject.
A prepared statement can be quickly written to allow you to delegate social media and website moderation, and concentrate on delivering the best event possible. We did this with our event and the statement ends all discussion (with us anyway). People will still continue to post negative comments but hide/ignore them (drown them out with positive news if you have to) and engage with those who have taken the information on board.
Persistent problem posters can usually be banned from your website and facebook pages, and whilst you can block Twitter users, you can't stop them tweeting about you. So you have varying degrees of control over the content on social media and the web, and you should use it.
Make sure the process of banning, hiding and deleting posts is well understood by the people who may be doing it. With all hands on deck as your event goes live, it's worth having a few designated people who can monitor sporadically during the day using their mobile. They can then keep up and deal with any problem posters.
In all of this, it's easy to forget the good posters, the ones who share, support and applaud. Don't forget to engage with them too - maybe after the event when you have a little more time to spare. After all, everyone likes to be liked!