Social media has become an important part of a conference or event.
Streaming feeds from Twitter and Facebook or providing text-to-screen
commentary lets audiences participate in events and allows brands to
collect feedback.

However, the risks to a brand’s reputation are
enhanced by the sheer number of people who might view inappropriate
material.

Conferences have long used Twitter to gather audience questions and feedback on the speakers, and there’s hardly a TV show left that doesn’t have its own Facebook page, Twitter hashtag feed streamed onto its website, or text-to-screen service.

Political debates, from Obama’s town hall to the London Mayoral debates, use social media to broadcast the event beyond the attending or viewing audiences. Sports events are making the most of live feedback from spectators, either at the ground itself or on the televised coverage.

Times Square’s giant billboards have been used to flash up messages from the public. Even the Royal Wedding had its own Facebook feed and live chat on ITV to involve audiences further in the event.

Ad campaigns are in themselves ‘events’. AT&T’s Valentine’s Day campaign this year saw messages of love sent in by consumers being shouted from a mountain top by mountain men (a nice touch was that AT&T gave each consumer who participated a video of their message being shouted out).

But organisers need to be wary. Live streaming left unmanaged can become a way for groups of users to hijack a brand, or, more often, to embarrass the brand by posting bad language or inappropriate content.

In a previous post for Econsultancy, I mentioned that live uploads (whether images, posts via Twitter or SMS or comments submitted via a live chat tool) attract disproportionately bad user behaviour.

There is always a small group of consumers who think it’s hilarious to upload pictures of nudity, or swear on screen, to deliberately try to damage the brand’s reputation or just for the fun of it.

The bigger the potential embarrassment to the brand (i.e., the bigger the audience witnessing the naked picture), the more likely people are to post inappropriate content.

It’s also very easy now for people to try and beat the moderation system and then send the evidence around on social networks via Twitpic or on Facebook. Offensive content can be live for just minutes but be round the world in seconds.

It’s good practice for brands that use social media during live events to make sure they manage it properly. I recommend that if you’re using social media streaming at a live event you use pre-moderation, and use the right kind.

You have two options. The first is to have moderators or community managers ‘cherry-pick’ from a hashtag or the live chat tool you are using.

This is the right method when there will be a high volume of anticipated submissions: you can select those comments which fit the live action and are editorially balanced – this would be very important in election coverage or at a sporting event for example. It also prevents your stream from being swamped where there is a high number of comments.

The second form of pre-moderation is where you are deleting the inappropriate content as it goes past: a little like quality control on a factory conveyor belt, there is a delay built in before the UGC goes live on your stream.

This would be the best model with a Twitter stream at a large conference, or one likely to be controversial.

Both kinds of moderation require expert dedicated teams capable of great concentration.  The teams need to follow editorial direction live and be flexible enough to scale up and down as the volume changes.  

Some extra things to remember:

  1. Add a filter to cut out much of the inappropriate material before it gets to the human moderator.
  2. Remember to check for obscured words, acronyms and text speak, links, hidden and coded messages (including the name or avatar of the user).  Take the time to scrutinise photos for background detail, presence of minors, copyright items and logos etc, just as you would for any other campaign.
  3. Make sure you have clear user guidelines written into the upload process.

    Note that most people won’t read long Ts & Cs, so although you need them to cover yourself legally, make sure that the most important bits are written in clear language, and are highly visible.

  4. Don’t feel you have to take abuse from users. If behaviour goes against site rules, don’t be afraid to implement them.
  5. If you have a host at your event, then you must respond to both negative and positive feedback, quickly. Twitter users expect a response within minutes of a tweet being sent; you have marginally longer with Facebook.
  6. Consider not allowing anonymous posting. Complete anonymity encourages higher levels of abuse than content requiring users to give their name and possibly contact details.
  7. Don’t allow the conversation to go off topic. Get rid of spam automatically, and consider providing a separate channel for any off-topic but brand-related  posts, to encourage users to stick to posting about the event.
  8. Have a plan in place in case of emergency. People who want to cause disruption are drawn to the media channels with the biggest audiences. 

    A large screen in a major city or a chat based around a popular reality TV programme or worldwide event are far more likely to attract someone wanting to send bomb threats or be the target of activists.