Making Lemonade

We recently heard of a fantastic idea for making the best of a bad situation and wanted to pass it along!

It seems an organization was forced to cancel their annual conference at the last minute due to the novel coronavirus pandemic (like many these days). Attendees made it clear they expected full refunds and the organization felt it could not risk angering its members if it did not give them their money back. Giving every attendee a full refund, however, would have meant the organization would end up with no revenue to offset their own non-refundable expenses, causing a huge loss for the organization.

Instead, the organization decided to offer a "re-fund" option, which encouraged attendees to donate all or part of their registration fees back to the organization.

Although most attendees did not choose the option, there were enough who did. In the end, the organization was able to cover a good portion of the costs it was still on the hook for.

Do you have an idea like this for making the best of a bad situation? Please let us know, either in the comments below or by contacting us.

Making the Best of a PR Disaster

We all hope to avoid PR issues when planning a large conference or event. Although we hate to admit it, some things are out of our control and even the best-laid plans can go awry. We might find ourselves having worked on an event for years, only to get blindsided by a controversy, like union strikes or North Carolina’s recent HB2 legislation, which forbids LGBT anti-discrimination protections. Amid all the uproar, meeting organizers can suddenly find themselves having to choose between moving a meeting or taking a hit on attendance.

It is understandable that organizers are worried about attendance. In response to HB2, a handful of states and localities have announced bans on non-essential travel for employees to North Carolina. Such bans probably won’t affect most types of events, but for events that rely heavily on public-sector attendees, like the Bus & Paratransit Conference of the American Public Transit Association (APTA), the effects could be huge.

Official travel bans may not be an organizer’s only worry. High Point Market, the state’s largest annual economic event, stated in a press release that the law meant "hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend Market this April", causing "significant economic damage to High Point Market and the North Carolina economy."

Neither APTA nor High Point Market can relocate their meeting—APTA for contractual reasons and High Point Market for geographical reasons. Other groups, however, have decided to take that route. The Charlotte News & Observer reported that as of April 21, over 20 groups had dropped plans for holding meetings in the city. (One group, B Lab, has provided an insightful accounting of the process they used to come to their decision.)

Whether deciding to move your event or stay put, here are some Pro Tips to help you handle a PR disaster that threatens to affect attendance:

  • Acknowledge the issue. It is unprofessional to bury your head in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong. Make a public statement acknowledging the situation, apologizing when necessary, and explaining what actions have been and will be taken in response.
  • Clarify your position. If your business or organization has an official position on the issue—even if that position is neutrality—state it clearly. If the issue is important enough to your organization or attendees, consider taking a more active role supporting allied organizations and/or encouraging attendees to do the same.
  • Focus on what change you can control. If possible, work with the event venue to get around the controversy—for example, by making bathrooms gender-neutral—even if just for your event.
  • Support those who can’t attend. If the purpose of your event is information distribution or creative exchange, then consider how you can do so via the internet. Consider bolstering your online content by live streaming, live blogging, and live tweeting sessions and keynotes. Webinars and podcasts are also good options. (Note that podcasts can be offered for free or for a download fee.) All these options allow for information distribution to still occur even if your physical attendance is lower than originally anticipated. If membership is a focus, offer it and benefits at a promotional rate during the conference and for a short time before/after online to incentivize new memberships. You could also offer additional online content throughout the event in a “member only” section of your website for those who cannot participate in person.

We would love to hear from you about additional strategies for maintaining good face in light of a PR disaster. Has your association or business been affected by a controversy that was beyond its control? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments.

Using Emojis

If you’ve received a text message recently, chances are pretty high it included an emoji. Emojis, which evolved from the simple emoticon, have become so popular that the Oxford English Dictionary named the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji (?) its 2015 “word” of the year. (One of the main reasons they cited was a dramatic increase in the use of emojis.)

Facebook Reactions

The emoji has even taken over social-media platforms. Facebook has long had a “Like” button, allowing users to easily react to posts without having to type comments. However, users have long requested a “Dislike” button for content that they don’t feel comfortable liking. Rather than just add a “Dislike” option, Facebook chose to include the more expansive Facebook Reactions (right). Facebook has allowed stickers in their Messenger product for a long time, but the launch of Reactions has started a shift in the user experience.

On Twitter, branded hashtag emojis are gaining a lot of traction with both brands and users. (For those who don’t know, a branded emoji is added to a tweet by using a specific hashtag.) Twitter made these extremely popular when they automatically added #StarWarsEmojis to people’s tweets when “Starwars: The Force Awakens” was released. Twitter has also had success with branded emojis for the #AMAs. The platform saw an extreme increase in online engagement for both topics, all because they incorporated emojis.

So can emojis help an association better engage members? Absolutely! AssociationsNow has blogged about how emojis can help associations with advocacy work and having conversations about diversity. Emojis are also a perfect way to engage millennials.

Here are some tips for using emojis as part of your association’s social-media strategy:

  • Use emojis in Facebook posts and tweets, either to convey emotion (?) or to save space (like using ? instead of the word “calendar” or ❤️ in place of “love”).
  • Start associating an emoji with your organization. For example, ? could be used for the Financial Planning Association and ☕️ for the National Coffee Association.
  • Don’t overwhelm your readers with emojis. A good rule of thumb is to use three or fewer. Emojis are all about simplicity, so keep it short and sweet.
  • Sneak them into “real life” at your events—on stickers, keychains, or other “swag”, or by making them edible (think cookies, cakes, cupcakes, suckers, etc.).

One small note: Emojis can appear slightly different across platforms, so what you see on a Mac might not be exactly the same on an Android or Windows product.

Take a minute and share with us the emoji you think works best for your association. Remember to keep it short and sweet!