Risk management has been a part of event planning for decades. But categories within the meetings risk-management structure have significantly evolved. Keeping watch on the meeting host's culture is an example of that.
Historically speaking, culture was associated with shared practices/norms/traditions/language, and those usually helped you choose a destination for an event. Culture and destination were inextricably linked.
So what has changed? The social media connection.
Let’s start with a premise: Communities drive culture, and social media communities are an interesting example of that, as technology has allowed host organizations' culture to transcend geography.
The communities created on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter share a purpose and passion about a product, a place, a person — really, about anything. A hallmark of these conversations is a rapid-fire exchange (wanted or not) with positive and negative points of view.
So what does that mean for the event planner? For some meetings — especially sales incentives and social or sports events — the potential impact can be significant.
Let’s look at two stories that had a negative impact.
- An incentive winner's post backfires: A top sales incentive winner posted a photo on Instagram showing himself at a beach destination wearing tropical attire with a cocktail in hand. He identified the company he works for and mentions the trip is "over the top." Many of his customers, who recently were notified of a product price increase, saw his post. While the customer price increase and the trip cost had no connection, the salesperson's customers didn’t see it that way. Several customers decided to talk to the incentive winner's competitors and ultimately switched suppliers. The incentive winner just lost customers due to his inappropriate social media posting.
- A supplier conversation goes viral: A fireworks supplier needs to get a permit in the small city where a corporate event will be held. While waiting to obtain the permit at the city office, a week before the event, the supplier chats with his DMC colleague at the city permit office. The fireworks display will be accompanied by Katy Perry’s song "Firework." The conversation is overheard by others in the permit office and an assumption is made that Katy Perry will be there in person. The company hosting the event, however, only has obtained the rights to play the song at the outdoor event; Ms. Perry will not be there. The local resident in the permit office tweeted out a message to friends in the city telling them of the date and location (also overheard) of the outdoor fireworks display and that Katy Perry will be appearing.
On the evening of the fireworks, more than 1,000 local residents showed up at the location. While the host had event security arranged, they did not anticipate a local crowd, which created unwanted traffic problems, restroom issues and overall disruption. Once word spread who the corporate host was, negative comments starting swirling and a second round of social media comments were posted by the disgruntled crowd. The host was the innocent party — but that wasn’t evident in the posts.
While these examples illustrate problems from postings, social media can also be a positive force for comment and change. Examples could be corporate hosts sponsoring events supporting underserved communities, employees being recognized for service awards, and companies implementing environmental sustainability standards for their meetings and events.
As a planner, there are steps you should be taking in advance, such as the following.
Social Media Strategy
Developing social media strategy is not the planner's job. It’s part of the organization’s brand/marketing team’s work. Still, you should know what your group's social media strategy is. Meet with the people who developed it, and determine the best way to align the events and incentives you are organizing with that strategy.
In the registration materials, many organizations have instituted a code of conduct for selected events, to which attendees must agree. The code outlines specific behaviors that will not be tolerated in the event environment, such as excessive alcohol and drug use, harassment of any type, and inappropriate social media postings. Most organizations only use this type of code for sales incentive programs or sporting events, but they can be implemented for any meeting. Does your event need to use this?
Planners could not deliver five-star events without their trusted business partners/suppliers. And when a supplier’s staffperson posts online, it’s usually out of excitement and pride in delivering the event vs. anything else. But there can be some negative fallout. For a bit of insurance against this, it’s a good idea to request that suppliers sign a nondisclosure agreement specific to your event. Caution them about talking about your event in public places, even to a colleague, prior to the event, and request that they refrain from posting details about the gathering. You never know who’s paying attention.
Monitoring Social Media Posts
The planner needs to understand how much their specific organization monitors social media in real time. Not every event needs that. But when the planner meets with the internal communications team, who developed the brand's social media strategy, that team should outline the organization’s real-time monitoring system.
Why? Due to the time sensitivity of postings, sometimes the event planner and/or security will need to respond quickly to an inappropriate posting during the actual event. The brand communications team should advise you on your organization’s best practices on how to respond to real-time, event related social media postings, and what the tone and message should be.
Liz Warwick of Warwick Strategic Planning is an event planning consultant. The former vice president of meeting management and event strategy at Liberty Mutual Insurance, she was the 2020-'21 Events Industry Council chair of meeting and event design for the APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force and a recipient of the EIC 2020 Chairman’s Award.