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GSMCON2020 100% CANCELED: CORONAVIRUS UPDATES

Mar 01, 2020

UPDATE: 11:53 a.m. PDT, Monday, April 6, 2020

Being on the front lines working around the clock to communicate critical information on the pandemic to your communities, the world has a new look at how difficult and crucial your role is for the public you serve. We see your hard work, hear your frustrations and will continue to support you in the best ways we can.  

You’ve told us that, even virtually, the uncertainty of the pandemic timeline and the unknown impacts of the virus to your communities means most of you can’t participate. We’ve made the decision to completely cancel the 2020 Government Social Media Conference, including the replacement virtual conference. Your focus needs to be, understandably so, on your communities, your families, your own self-care and health.

We understand this time is difficult for everyone, and we’ve amended our cancelation policy in order to offer two options for GSMCON2020 attendees, both of which will come with a one-year free membership to our updated professional association. The first option mirrors what many of you indicated in our survey; to transfer the full value of your ticket, including workshops, to the 2021 event in Philadelphia. The second option is to receive a partial refund. 

Detailed information on transferring tickets, partial refund amounts, how these decisions were made and more on your free membership are addressed on the GSMCON2020 Cancelation FAQ page. Ticket holders, please review the FAQs and let us know your choice by April 17, 2020 by filling out the form sent directly to you via email. 

If you are a ticket holder and did not receive an email, please contact us at [email protected]

UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. PDT, Friday, April 3, 2020

We’ll be publishing an important update in regards to the conference by noon PDT Monday, April 6, 2020, and opening the process for ticket transfers/refund requests. Thank you for your patience as we worked out all the details to make this process as simple as possible.

UPDATE: 11:58 a.m. PDT, Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The majority of our attendees, speakers and sponsors responded to yesterday’s survey, and an overwhelming 87% requested to postpone the virtual GSMCON2020 conference. Many of you are working full-time on communicating with the public during the Coronavirus pandemic — emotionally and physically draining work for the near future. 

We are officially postponing the GSMCON Virtual Conference to a later date in the near future. Please focus on your communities, your self-care and your friends & family — your position is vital during unprecedented times like these, and we are still here to support you. 

To that end, we will be releasing our COVID-19 virtual hub very soon to connect you with your social media peers across the U.S. and help you collaborate on best ways to communicate with your communities. This will be a place where you can share advice, get input and more on dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic close to home. We’ll reach out when the virtual hub goes live and let you know how you can participate.

We sincerely thank you for staying with us, reaching out and working with us to pivot daily in response to this fast-changing new normal. If you haven’t already, please add [email protected] to your address book to make sure you receive our emails, and visit the Virtual Transition FAQ page where we’re addressing many of your GSMCON questions, including information on transfer and refund requests, which will still be available during the month of April 2020.

Further questions can be sent to [email protected] or through DM on social media, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

This blog post and the virtual conference FAQ page will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: 12:58 p.m. PDT, Wednesday, March 11, 2020

We’re expecting to share further details on the virtual conference with you Monday, March 16, 2020 on important pieces including an updated schedule, how to connect with your peers, information on breakout sessions, how to be a part of this event and more.

Our hearts continue to go out to our communicator friends affected by this crisis, and we appreciate seeing everyone supporting each other in the Government Social Media Community Facebook Group. As we and others are rallying with the community: “We’re better together”  

As difficult as a decision it was to make to move GSMCON to a virtual event this year, we foresaw this outcome after speaking with public health officials about the Coronavirus outbreak last week. Today, State of Washington officials announced the ban of large events in the county where GSMCON was to be held, and we know we made the right call. 

We’re continuing to listen to your ideas on what you’d like to see during the virtual conference, and we encourage you to keep them coming (link now closed). We’re also collecting all the great ideas you’re telling us over email and on social media.

We’re addressing your questions on our FAQ page, and please check back Monday for additional information about the virtual conference. If you have further questions, you can reach out to us at [email protected] or DM us on social media. 

Thank you for your patience as we make this pivot to a virtual conference, and for your understanding as we drastically shift our plans. All of us at GSM, the social networks, major partners, speakers, your council, local host committee & the greater GSM community are committed to making this a phenomenal virtual event for you.

This blog post and the virtual conference FAQ page will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: 2 p.m. PDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

We know many of you requested this information so you can change your flights due to the cancellation of the in-person event in Seattle because of the Coronavirus outbreak. Even though we usually make the announcement at the end of the conference, we hear you, and we want to get you that info.

We’re excited to announce Philadelphia as the location for the 7th annual Government Social Media Conference!

GSMCON2021 will be in Philadelphia, PA
March 23-25, 2021
Philadelphia Marriott Downtown
1201 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Many of you have asked if we could bring the event to Seattle for 2021, but we signed with Philly months ago. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone in person at GSMCON2021, but please join us, your peers and the social networks for the GSMCON2020 virtual conference! We’re working to make this an exceptional experience for you & your agency with components that will last long after the conference dates. Submit your ideas here — (link now closed). We’re also collecting all the great ideas you’re telling us on social media and email, too.

Additional details on refunds, upgrading your virtual pass to the virtual conference and more can be found on our FAQ page. Thank you everyone for your understanding, patience and support!

We’ll be updating both this blog post and the FAQ page with additional information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: 12:42 p.m. PDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Since we announced GSMCON2020 will now be a 100% virtual event, we’ve been hearing some great ideas about what you’d like to see for the virtual conference. We appreciate the feedback you’ve been sharing over email and in the Government Social Media Community Facebook Group!

We’re listening to your thoughts, and we want to incorporate them into this virtual experience. While we weren’t expecting to make GSMCON a virtual event back when we first started planning, we’re pivoting to make this an exceptional experience for you — what would you like to see?

All of your thoughts on how we can make this virtual conference the best experience for you can be directed to this forum, (link now closed). If you’re interested in getting more involved, let us know on the form and we’ll be in touch! We’re also collecting all the great ideas you’re telling us on social media and email, too.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions on the virtual event, but before you do, please read our FAQ page that we’re updating as more information becomes available. Have additional questions? Email us at [email protected] or DM us on social.

We’ll be updating both this blog post and the FAQ page with additional information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: 12:50 p.m. PDT, Monday, March 9, 2020

We realize there are a lot of questions, and we appreciate you for giving us this weekend to put together an FAQ page on the virtual event. Many of your questions on refunds, additional information on the virtual conference and more are addressed.

Please don’t hesitate to keep sending us your questions and we’ll answer you directly and continue to add to our FAQs. You can reach us by email or DM us on social media.

We’ll be updating both this blog post and the FAQ page with additional information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: 6:35 p.m. PDT, Saturday, March 7, 2020

We’d like to let you know what our team has been working on today, to continue to keep you updated. We responded to every email we’ve received to our inbox over the last day, though some we had to note that we’re listening and working on answers. Our team really appreciated the messages of support as well, thank you!

Jo on our team is monitoring and doing outreach on social media, and she wants you to know that she’s listening and bringing every question you have back to us. Our Government Social Media Community Facebook group is THE best place to collaborate with other GSMCON attendees and the greater community of government social media professionals as well.

We started a rolling FAQ document with every question that has surfaced for us so far. We’re working on answers and we will be publishing the FAQs on Monday, March 9, 2020. Odds are, you have some of the same questions, so please take a look at it when it’s published.

We’re also leaning on our GSM Membership Council to collect your ideas for the virtual conference, and we’re tapping the social networks and our sponsors for their wish list to make this an amazing experience. Our goal is to fashion much of our conference into a virtual event taking place the same week as the originally-scheduled GSMCON, but also to incorporate an ongoing virtual hub for government social media professionals dealing with Coronavirus impacts to your own communities. Speakers, we’ll be reaching out to you shortly.

Part of the aftermath of cancelling the physical event is that we’re also dealing with the venue and hotels. We made the decision to cancel because it was the right thing to do and would do it again any day of the week to keep you all safe. BUT, the financial impacts of that decision are uncertain, so please bear with us as we work through this.

We can’t thank you enough for your continued support, warm thoughts and positive messages. We know you’re dealing with changing your own plans, trying to get refunds for anything you can and scares about Coronavirus coming to your own state. It’s hard and it sucks, but if we stick together, we can get through this. We’ll report back tomorrow.

~ Kristy Dalton

UPDATE: 6:23 p.m. PST, Friday, March 6, 2020


Video above is GSMCON Conference Director Kristy Dalton speaking, transcript below.

We at Government Social Media have given the Coronavirus situation in Washington deep consideration and have been closely monitoring updates. After consulting public health officials, local government officials and our council, we have made the difficult decision to turn the physical Government Social Media Conference in Seattle this month into a virtual experience.

Seattle is an amazing city we chose to bring our attendees to because the Pacific Northwest has been incredibly supportive of our organization. Our hearts go out to all of our friends and fellow public communicators who are working diligently to get the latest information and updates to the public. 

This is an unprecedented, difficult situation, and we have made all efforts to continue GSMCON as planned. This is an event we hold every year for over 1,000 public communicators representing emergency management, law enforcement and other critical areas in United States cities, counties, states and federal agencies. Each year, we give government agencies direct contact with major social media networks and a space to learn best practices with each other.

We’re gravely concerned about the ramifications of bringing over 1,000 representatives of government agencies to an area that has seen the strongest impact of Coronavirus throughout the country. Our attendees are the people who must be ready and able to communicate to the public and help manage any outbreak situations in their own communities. 

We must fulfill our social responsibility to take prevention seriously and to put the health of not only our attendees, but also their entire communities, first. It is our unwritten agreement to each other to do what we can to mitigate the risk of spreading this virus further. 

Over the past week, there has been an escalating timeline for Coronavirus activity coming out of the State of Washington, particularly concerning because our venue is in the most affected county. Since the news of the first virus-related death in Washington on Saturday to the rising death toll sadly throughout the week, public health departments in Seattle and King County have issued new public health recommendations, including a request to organizers of large public gatherings to avoid bringing large groups of people together.

We have an obligation to our community of government communicators to follow this recommendation from local public health officials.

We’ve been listening to, and sharing, your concerns. Many of you have told us that your government agencies will no longer allow you to attend GSMCON2020 in Seattle, citing concerns as great as quarantine of staff when they return. We’re worried about medical conditions, too. We know a major concern is protecting your health, your community’s health, and we refuse to put you in a position where you need to choose.

We’re taking cues from many conferences across the country and moving GSMCON to a virtual event, and we’re taking your feedback on what that will look like because we know that the experience is everything for you. 

And to that, I’m happy to say that we have the support moving forward of major social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Nextdoor, LinkedIn and key partners like ArchiveSocial, who are committed to bringing you the experience you’ve come to know and expect from us at Government Social Media.

We realize you have a lot of questions — including further information on refunds, how the Golden Post Awards will happen and how you can deal with your reservations — and we’re working to get you answers. For the past year, we’ve been planning this event, along with you, and now, we need to shift gears. 

We thank you for your patience during this pivot. And, I want to share with you, our goal is to create something beyond the virtual events; this will be virtual space to connect with your fellow government communicators for more than just the dates of our conference. 

Importantly, we need to talk about how we can fold in what our friends in Washington are handling and support them moving forward. 

Thank you for being part of the Government Social Media community and for your outpouring of support. Our team truly appreciates you. GSMCON has become what it is today because of the involvement of government communicators across the country, like you. We are committed to supporting the largest network of government social media professionals in the U.S., and we will always continue to do so.

This blog post will be continuously updated as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 12:28 p.m. PST, Friday, March 6, 2020

Conference Director Kristy Dalton will have an important update on GSMCON2020 by 5 p.m. PST today. Please check back here. 

UPDATE: 4:41 p.m. PST, Thursday, March 5, 2020

We know many of you are in a holding pattern about the Government Social Media Conference and need to know if the event will move forward because your plans rely on it. We hope you understand there are so many moving parts, variables and future impacts to the decision of whether the conference is held in Seattle this March. We want to lay it all out so everyone can work from the same information.

(TL;DR We haven’t officially canceled the conference, and we’re currently working with the venue & hotels on our options. We know you need confirmation on next steps, we hope to bring you that update tomorrow, March 6, 2020.)

Here’s where we are:


  • Our small team of 6 has been planning this event for an entire year. Not only us, but our membership council, local host committee, awards judges and the whole village it takes to make a conference of this scale happen.
  • Last year, we asked you to return and bring your friends — and you did. This year, many agencies have registered four or five people; you helped create the biggest GSMCON yet, and we want to provide the experience you’ve come to expect.
  • Our sponsors have been working hard to plan your experience, and have even started shipping exhibit materials to the convention center. 
  • Your peers and industry speakers have been researching and preparing their sessions.
  • We understand you’ve made travel plans, hotel reservations and invested your time into this experience, including going through intense travel approvals at all levels of your agency.

Here’s a brief update on what’s going on in the Seattle-area:

  • The escalating timeline for activity on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) coming out of the State of Washington this week is very concerning, particularly because the convention center is in King County. We appreciate public communicators in Washington for constantly updating the public on the situation as new information becomes available. 
  • On Saturday, February 29, 2020, King County announced the first U.S. death due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As of the writing of this update, five days later, 11 deaths and 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been announced in Washington.
  • Since Saturday, a state of emergency has been declared within Washington State, King County, City of Seattle, Snohomish County and City of Everett. 
  • At Thursday’s press conference, Governor Jay Inslee said he’s encouraging postponing non-essential meetings over 10 people.
  • We’re aware other events in Seattle and surrounding areas are either fully canceling in-person conferences or moving to virtual platforms. 
  • Officials are recommending those who are at high-risk take extra precautions to avoid gatherings. This includes people over 60 years old, have underlying health issues including heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, have weakened immune systems or those who are pregnant.
  • North Carolina confirmed the state’s first COVID-19 case Tuesday, which was linked to the Seattle-area nursing home facility. 
  • We’re closely monitoring all updates including tonight’s press conference with Vice President Mike Pence and Washington Governor Jay Inslee. 

Next steps:

We’re currently working with the convention center and host hotels on our options and all the many variables involved. We recognize the option exists to follow the model of major conferences across the country that have announced this week that they’ll convert to an entirely virtual experience for the safety of their participants. We’re listening, and will continue to listen, to the feedback you’re giving us about that potential direction.

Government Social Media has always served as a foundation and networking hub for government communicators; a place where we turn to each other for advice, support and inspiration. We understand that many people have a number of thoughts on the severity, response and impact of COVID-19, but all of us share the monumental task of informing our communities through this situation. It is our intent to be there with and for you each step of the way. 

This blog post will be continuously updated as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 1:58 p.m. PST, Wednesday, March 4, 2020

In light of the newest recommendations by public officials on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation coming out of the Seattle-area, we’re working through the impact this means for GSMCON2020 and our attendees. We share your concerns, and we commit to getting back to you by tomorrow, Thursday, March 5, 2020.

UPDATE: 8:10 a.m. PST, Wednesday, March 4, 2020

You’re in the right place! Please note that we are receiving information throughout the day and additional updates will be posted here.

UPDATE: 12:05 p.m. PST, Tuesday, March 3, 2020 from Conference Director Kristy Dalton – 

Hi, I’m Kristy Dalton and I founded and run the Government Social Media Conference, celebrating its sixth year in Seattle in a few weeks in 2020.

We’re grateful for the outpouring of support from our social media community and we also want to support our wonderful friends in Washington, who are excited to welcome this community to their state. 

As a former government communicator like you, I can’t stand corporate statements and I really just want to take a minute to talk like a real person about what’s going on. I don’t want to be like every other company, because we’re not like every other company.

Will GSMCON2020 be cancelled?

GSMCON2020 is still moving forward right now. We’re not taking the fact that many of you have purchased a non-refundable plane ticket lightly! We’re also looking at guidance from the Washington State Convention Center and city public health officials on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) situation and their recommendations to us.  

Under what circumstances could the event be cancelled? 

The Convention Center has noted that there are currently no U.S. transportation restrictions on domestic travel, and Washington’s Governor has not issued a recommendation that large events be cancelled. We believe that either of those two activities would make it more likely for the convention center to accept an event cancellation. Regardless of what they will allow and the contractual ramifications to our company, I’ll make that call if either of those two activities occur. We will let all attendees know immediately if that’s the case (plus, see item #2 below).         

How will GSMCON be affected if held?

As mentioned, we’re currently still moving forward and will work to minimize any impact to our live event. We might move around speakers, have a virtual keynote and readjust our program to make sure your experience is what you’ve come to expect from us. The Convention Center, Sheraton Grand Seattle and Hyatt Regency have plans in place to increase cleaning and disinfection and have provided us with materials and information for our guests.

What about the no-refund policy?

The reason events like ours have a solid no-refund policy in effect during the last few weeks before the event is to keep the company from going under should a once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation like this happen. It’s so they can continue to stay in business and keep focusing on their mission despite encountering a situation no one could predict.

But that doesn’t settle well with me. I recognize that if this is your first GSMCON and you’ve never worked with GSM before, then you probably don’t know that we always, as a core to our mission, try to make decisions we believe to be the right thing to do.   

We recognize you may be in a situation where you need to cancel. While it’s not feasible for us to disregard the cancellation policy and give refunds this close to the event, even in this once in a million circumstance, I will commit to doing at least two things:

1. If GSMCON is held, and you or your agency needs to cancel your attendance, you’ll have access to sessions, including video/audio of the program and access to download session slides after the event with a virtual pass.

2. If GSMCON can’t be held for the reasons mentioned above, we’ll commit to holding a virtual conference for everyone instead that comes with all the great content you’ve come to expect from us. We’ll invite our partners and speakers to either pre-record or host live streams, and we’ll get you much of the information you could have received at the event. We’ll even encourage you to invite your co-workers and others at your agency to participate in the virtual event as well. To fold in the networking and collaboration aspects we all love, we’d work to build in live chat participation.       

What it boils down to is that the six of us here at GSM, in coordination with the hard work of our membership council, and our local host committee, and our sponsors, have worked for an entire year to make the GSMCON experience something we’re proud of. We’re still committed to that, and to you. Please let me know, us know, if you have any questions and we’ll promise to keep you updated every step of the way.

This blog post will be continuously updated as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 9:58 a.m. PST, Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Due to Twitter’s restriction on travel directed by their leadership, they’ve informed us they won’t be able to attend GSMCON2020 in person. 

While we’ll miss Lauren Devoll and Tom Tarantino’s presence, they’re excited to host virtual sessions for our attendees, so they can still be a part of the program. We’re currently working out further details with them.

Currently, Government Social Media is not cancelling the event. We are continuously gathering information and considering several plans, all dependent on additional information from the other entities involved to find out the best way to minimize any potential impacts to our attendees. 

This blog post will be continuously updated as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 11:58 a.m. PST, Monday, March 2, 2020

At this time, Government Social Media is not cancelling the event. We’re getting new information as it’s being released, and we’re aware of the latest updates coming out of King County, WA.

We’re communicating with the venue, hotels and other entities to find out the best way to minimize any potential impacts for our attendees. We will keep this post updated throughout the day to provide any new information as it becomes available.

ORIGINAL POST: Sunday, March 1, 2020

At this time, the Government Social Media Conference in Seattle, Washington will take place as planned, March 24-26, 2020. We at Government Social Media are monitoring the potential impacts of all situations closely for our attendees, including COVID-19 (Coronavirus). 

Your safety and well-being is our top priority. We and our venue, the Washington State Convention Center, are following guidance from the CDC and public health officials, and are fully committed to providing you a safe and healthy environment during GSMCON2020. We encourage all attendees to make travel decisions they are comfortable with.

Our goal is to provide you with best practices training, networking and collaboration in your profession, and we want to make sure you get it — safely. We’re working behind-the-scenes to provide just that. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected] or DM us on social media. 

This post will be updated with new information as it becomes available.

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