When Things Go Bad

I have a problem and I need your help.  As the co-founder of Innovation Nights, a blogger and avid Twitterer (almost 5000 followers on just my personal account, almost 6000 on @MassInno and I manage several others), I frequently make the invite list for some very cool things.  (“Where’s the problem?” You say.)  Here’s the problem: sometimes, things go bad.

There are three ways things go wrong.  Very wrong.  Usually not the fault of the people in charge but we all know these things happen.  The event that gets cancelled or worse, goes on, due to or despite a natural disaster.  The main attraction that never materializes — traffic, illness, whatever.  A truck crashes into a nearby post and takes out the power and Internet, and everything goes dark.   No one to blame.

The second way that things can go wrong falls into the category of  “possibility could have been avoided if I had access to a crystal ball or other future-telling device.”  These are sometimes things that good professional event planners may be able to help you avoid or things that you spend all night rehashing in your head replaying and asking “What if?”  What if I had asked about their network integrity?  What if I had known that celebrity always runs 2 hours late?  What if I had checked the history of  the club’s liquor violations? (When the venue loses its liquor license.) Could I have known that the competition was also planning something that day? This is usually asked when the biggest competitor launches a new heretofore stealth product and upstages your launch party. Sometimes this category of problem could have been avoided but often, realistically, not.

The third category is the “Yup, it is their fault” problem or mistake.  (I firmly believe that no one wants to cause a problem for their event but sometimes people make mistakes or faulty decisions, or, just run out of time to implement perfectly.)  Some of them are head-slappers: “Let’s serve hamburgers on Friday…” during Lent. (Or worse, when the vegan convention is visiting.)  “Of course our venue that regularly serves 50 people can handle an event with 200.” Or the breakfast server mixes up the orange juice and the clearly labeled pre-mixed screwdrivers (placed side-by-side in the walk-in freezer by the previous night’s bartender.)  Or someone doesn’t order enough food and people are left hungry and no one fixes the problem.

As a transparent (your social media life is a pretty open book) social media person, how do you handle these incidents?  I don’t want to hang people out to dry but I have had several occasions where I have been questioned closely by watchers about events that I suddenly stop tweeting or blogging about because I suddenly have nothing good to say.  (Not to say that every event where I go silent is one with challenges — sometimes I am having too much fun, or get busy and get caught up in the swirl of things. Or maybe I max out on Twitter and it says “No more Tweets for you!”  It happens — some kind of spam filter.)

I know the impact of bad reviews. They hurt.  They hurt the business and the people involved.  Poor comments and bad reviews can be like the locusts descending.  First there is one and then there are many.  And they can eat everything and lay waste to the business. (As a business — you need to actively manage poor reviews.  Of course, try to prevent them from happening in the first place.  If one happens, apologize. Then fix the problem.)

I generally adhere to the “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it” rule.  I give constructive criticism and make suggestions for improving things.  Everything can be improved and I would hope people are as open with me about the events I run.  (And, understand that we sometimes can’t utilize all the suggestions or advice.  I’ve had plenty of conflicting advice over the three years of running Mass Innovation Nights — none of it wrong, just a different approach. )

So, back to my social media influencer friends.  What’s your policy? Do you communicate freely about events with natural disaster type problems — those totally not the organizer’s fault — and remain silent where your words could be an indictment? Do you Tell All?  The Good, the Bad, the Ugly?  Do you fudge or sugar coat? How do you handle disastrous events when you are a guest?

4 thoughts on “When Things Go Bad

  1. Well, I am one of the few folks who is free to do what I want when I want. This luxury is afforded me because I’m a freelance journalist without ties to any one publication or one industry. So, let’s explore your question…

    When things go awry at an event, do I share it transparently?

    It depends. On many things.

    Am I there as a guest? Am I there to cover the event? Am I there as a hired speaker? Do I have a relationship with the person or persons who have caused the event to go off the rails?

    In the real world – of which social is more an element than we realize – there are no absolutes.

    If I attend the opening of a restaurant and am there in my official capacity as a food show host and blogger, what’s my obligation? It’s to my audience to share with them the event. If a waiter spills a whole tray of food on the guests, is that a earth-shatterer? Hardly. If the food ALL comes from the kitchen done incorrectly – that would make the cut.

    As with anything, you need to make judgement calls.

    I see the same thing happen at tech events and conferences. I complain loudly and often about technology events that cannot maintain a broad and strong Wifi signal. That is inexcusable. But, I don’t really hold the organizers too much to blame if the speakers aren’t all fantastic or if the booklet listing the schedule isn’t top-notch.

    You need to pick your battles. Especially in an era where you might actually have influence far beyond what you realize. While I might only have 8000 followers, the true reach of one of my tweets might go into the millions if a few of my more well-established followers decide to share my commentary.

    I think common sense and transparency both play a role in sharing your experiences with any network. How’s that for my $.02?


  2. I take a slightly different approach than Jeff. I work for one of the largest companies in the world, and recognize that nearly anyone and everyone is (or is a potential) employee, client, partner, etc. Thus I always try to stay as positive as possible on my public social channels. In other words I wouldn’t say I’m “free to do what I want when I want”, but that’s not a bad thing, either. Staying positive in most situations can have a significant ripple effect elsewhere.

    I agree with you Bobbie on understanding the impact of bad reviews or bad press. And I realize that I often don’t know all the details. That bad WiFi situation Jeff mentions (and which we’ve all experience I’m sure)? Not sure I’d say it’s inexcusable – there are any number of things that can cause problems with WiFi, many of which could fall into Bobbie’s second category. I generally try to avoid any judgment until I know all the facts, and often I simply don’t.

    But again, all this is based on my current situation. For others who are journalists, or work freelance, part of their obligation may in fact be to report/blog/tweet/etc fairly and objectively, which may certainly include an honest appraisal of what has gone wrong. So I’ll agree with Jeff on the judgment call point.

    But realize that there may be more fundamental factors than your own personal judgement call.

    1. Thanks, Eric. I agree on the wi-fi. Running a monthly event, I’ve seen more than my share of network slow downs and break downs, probably not surprising with a few hundred social media folks banging away at it, and 10 or so companies all trying to show off their websites all at once. Some of the places we do events just aren’t places that usually see that kind of network traffic. We’ve been places where we tested everything like crazy and still the network ends up moving at a snail’s pace during the peak hours. Fortunately at our last event in Lowell, we had the the onsite services of a team from Comcast, who were able to instantly place additional equipment in the room when it became apparent we were doing in the existing structure. They even left behind a nice little hotspot for the venue!

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