For a venue operator, social media is a two-way street. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram represent an efficient way to facilitate engagement with fans by communicating everything from promotions to special instructions on game day. Likewise, these pervasive channels represent a powerful way to anticipate potential trouble by monitoring individual and group comments in the days and weeks leading up to an event, and even during it.
While there are still a lot of questions around the privacy implications of monitoring social media, the practice is nevertheless becoming more common with high schools, colleges and professional venues across the country. For instance, the University of Virginia Police Department employs a social media monitoring service that aims to help law enforcement more effectively respond to threats made online.
Officer Ben Rexrode, community service and crime prevention coordinator for the University Police Department, told The Daily Progress last year that the service is just one more tool that law enforcement uses in an increasingly perilous world. "There are so many potential threats and vague sentences being done online," Rexrode said at the time. "You have to translate the old mentality of 'see something, say something' to seeing threats online and reporting them and acting on them if necessary."
Specifically, UVA acts on them through the use of Social Sentinel, which is essentially a piece of software that scans public social media messages and alerts police when particular keywords or phrases are used. In UVA's case, when keywords are used in relation to the university or an event at the university, the software automatically sends an alert to police supervisors.
Unfortunately, large gatherings have become targets for people wishing to do harm — the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas where 58 people were killed, and the suicide bombing at an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England, where 22 people died, to cite two tragic examples. These are the unfortunate possibilities for which venue operators must plan.
Ray Johnson, director of executive services and cybersecurity for Ilitch Holdings, which manages Little Caesar's Arena and Comerica Park in Detroit, says social media has become an important part of how his company ensures a safe environment for events, ranging from Detroit Red Wings games to big-name concerts.
"Depending on the event, we build a dashboard of keywords associated with the event," Johnson says. "We also monitor if any protests are being planned for certain events." He notes that people tend to feel more comfortable behind a keyboard and will post things that raise red flags. "Depending on the post and the intent or threat, we will contact the proper authorities."
Social channels can also be of value in communicating event changes prior to the event. Because three of Detroit's professional teams play in the company's venues, which also host a variety of concerts and other shows, each event requires its own risk assessment. Once the assessment has been made, any changes, such as parking restrictions or closed entrances, can then be broadcast via social media. Says Johnson, "Messages of any changes or awareness are usually handled by each team's media team."
The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) endorses the use of social media for venue communication and security with a series of best practices. NCS4 contends that social media is a powerful tool that all venues should be using. No matter the size of the venue or event, NCS4 concludes that it is critically important that venue operators find creative ways to implement a social media communication and monitoring program.
The guidelines advise on how best to build a following, communicate with that following, and keep tabs on the conversation happening within the online community. NCS4 offers practical advice, suggesting that operators assign a qualified person to manage all social media assets. The individual or group should monitor social media channels for any sign of a threat, including by checking visiting team fan sites and social media feeds to anticipate potential issues.
In terms of developing a following, NCS4 recommends that facilities operators piggyback on social media tools acquired by in-house sales or marketing departments. Likewise, operators should work with their university, its information technology department or the team's communications department to staff the effort and bring in law enforcement officers as needed.
NCS4 Best Practices for Social Media:
• Build expertise and experience with all social media platforms.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Social media has become a critical part of venue security." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.