Tech Happens: What to Do When Online Event Plans Go Awry

In my last Tech Happens post, I offered 12 tips for live streaming on social media, the focus being how to prevent mishaps from happening. But sometimes, no amount of guidance, preparation, and hard work stops technology glitches from happening.

My partner-in-crime Kristin Kufeldt and I have compiled a list of tips that we’ve found most useful when plans go awry. Some of them are similar to the ones I offered for handling bad press on social media, which makes sense, since technology mishaps can generate negative responses from your social media followers.

1. Have a plan.

Having a detailed game plan goes a long way to reducing the stress you’ll feel when technology fails, and it will show your audience you’ve got your act together. Tech happens, people know that, so it’s not the failure that audiences find unacceptable, it’s a poor response to snafus that annoys them. 

Your plan should comprise everything you need to pivot quickly and smoothly, including: 

  • A communication plan: This should include points 3 – 7 below. 
  • Lines of communication: How will you and all stakeholders communicate? People may not check email fast enough, so consider setting up a chat thread ahead of time (text, WhatsApp, Teams) for sending updates and urgent communications. Phone numbers are also a good backup. 
  • Brand advocates: Consider having brand advocates at the ready (employees, partners, thought leaders) who can lend their support and balance the negative chatter. 
  • Expectations for each failure type: If we lose audio, then…. If we lose visual, then…. If we lose the host, then…. If the system crashes, then…. And so on. Clearly outline the steps, who will take what action, and responsible parties for making each step happen. 
  • Permissions: Do any of your broadcast permissions change if your online venue changes? Make sure to communicate the changes if they do. 
  • Backup people: This is particularly useful for smaller events, like webinars and live streams. For example, if the host/organizer loses Internet or their computer crashes, have someone working in the background who can step in and run the event.

2. Communicate your backup plan. 

Make sure everyone participating in the event is aware of your plan. This includes event staff, speakers, and social media teams—anyone who has a role to play.

3. Practice, practice, practice. 

As much as you can, practice under the same conditions as you’ll have for your live event. For example, before every #AventiLive chat, I host a dry run, where I either stream privately to my Facebook page (so only I can see) or I record to my Socialive account with my speakers using the same computer, Internet, and audio setup that they will have for the actual chat. It allows me to work out technical difficulties ahead of time, and it helps orient the speakers to the process. 

Run through your backup plans, too. If Facebook Live fails, can you pivot to Periscope or LinkedIn? Have you streamed to your backups previously? Does your team know who will handle what portion of your plan?

4. Respond immediately and regularly. 

If your event is due to start at 11:00am and you can’t due to technical problems, you must get word out to your audience right away. So, part of your plan should include prewritten posts apologizing for the delay, explaining the issue, and letting your audience know where and when the event will start. Basically, give them a short, sweet version of your backup plan with links to the new event location. Make sure to also provide assurances that you’ll keep them informed, and then do so. 

I find it helpful to put all the various social responses you need in a spreadsheet. You’ll want copy for all the various scenarios in your backup plan, as well as prepared responses to anticipated questions. You don’t have to respond to every comment, but be prepared to address legitimate queries. 

Having images ready for all contingencies to accompany the above copy is also a good practice.

5. Don’t get defensive or give generic responses. 

It’s to be expected when things go awry that at least some of your audience will post testy comments; and as I mentioned in my bad press post, it’s only natural to feel defensive when faced with negative comments. Just don’t BE defensive in your response. It will only make it worse. 

Hand in hand with not being defensive is not blaming. Don’t blame the audience (“due to unexpected demand”) or the tool (“due to audio issues on On24”). You can blame an “act of God” (e.g. power outages due to weather), but only AFTER you’ve apologized for the inconvenience. Remember, people don’t care what caused the problem, only what your solution is. 

Having a communication plan with prewritten posts explaining what’s up makes it easier to avoid defensive and blaming communication. However, make sure your responses aren’t generic and repetitive (replying to each comment with the same response), as generic responses are equally problematic. 

Consider adding a name to your responses to further humanize your engagement.

6. Don’t ignore negative feedback.

People hate being ignored, especially when they’re upset. Going radio silent and ignoring the elephant in the room will likely make things worse. Just ask the ostrich. 😉

7. Show gratitude.

Always thank the audience for showing up, for their patience, for their support. Never underestimate the power of saying thank you.

8. Listen and monitor.

Whenever you have an event, you should always be listening and monitoring the chatter, and if things go sideways, it’s imperative that you increase that monitoring and have staff on hand to respond. This is critical no matter the size of your social following, but if your following is large, it’s even more crucial.

Lastly, follow the advice from President Shepherd in American President, when he was told “The important thing is not to make it look like we’re panicking.” He said, “See, and I think the important thing is actually not to BE panicking.”

So, remember to breathe and not panic. If you have a backup plan, you’ll be okay. 

Avery began her career as a Marcom writer at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), where she wrote everything from executive-level brochures to white papers to flyers to gift and product catalogs. Before leaving HDS to consult full time, Avery advanced to the position of Director, Web Content and Design.  Today, Avery works with companies of all sizes to develop compelling, persuasive, and effective customer communication strategies and marcom deliverables that encompass everything from websites to social media to print collateral. She helps clients connect and build relationships with their customers through audience-based communication strategies and messaging.