A website is often built with a desired normal mode in mind. But how can you prepare your site for crisis (and for great success)? Here are some tips.
Over the years, I have, most by chance, I think, had the opportunity to experience really tough and public crises from the inside. It has provided me with some insights into how to plan websites; that you need to think about what can go wrong when you build things that will be good.
Makes it possible to handle deviations
The most basic thing when building a website that can withstand tough times is to make it possible to publish information other than that which has to do with your normal mode and everyday life. When you structure your website, you have an imagined – or even desired – interaction in mind. Inspirational images and conversion in all its glory, but when the crisis strikes, it is not happy people and good-looking product images you want to focus on.
Avoid dependency on the people who built your website. If you have to wait fourteen days for the next deploy to get the necessary changes out on the website, then the crisis has already run amok. Your website must be able to handle several different scenarios and you must be able to change content very rapidly.
Your website must handle traffic jam
Load testing is exactly what it sounds like, tests to check what load the site can handle. Let’s say that all your customers come to the site at the same time. Let’s say they want to do something too. At the same time. This is what happens in an orderly manner when you have planned it, like when post an irresistible offer in social media and through your newsletter.
But when the crisis comes, it very rarely comes in an orderly manner. And in addition to all the angry people – customers or other people who are the real stakeholders – that are involved, your site will attract a lot of visitors who are just curious about how you handle the situation.
Load testing should be performed regularly, but of course load testing is especially important when building the basic architecture of a website. The purpose is not to state that everything crashes when traffic increases by 2000 percent, but to know where your limits go and to set a plan to deal with that. A white screen and the message “the site cannot be accessed at the moment” is not only devastating for your visitors at the moment. When the crisis strikes, it is also a heavy drop for your brand.
Protect yourself from attacks
For banks, insurance companies and large media companies, DDoS attacks – organized attacks to harm a website – are commonplace. You may not be one of these, but in a crisis, the scene may change. Really fast.
Say that – let’s take a random example – someone in your management was caught with extensively spending other people’s money under dubious circumstances. Preferably spiced with appropriate doses of hypocrisy and noisy explanations.
If your organization is the target, then – at least in the early stages of the crisis – it does not matter that much what has actually happened or who is responsible. If hatred flares up, it is merciless.
It is precisely in a crisis situation that you need your website the most. Often the website is the only direct channel left.
Make sure you can handle attacks, even if it feels unlikely that you could be exposed.
Organize crisis management for reality
The person responsible for crisis communication in your organization is probably the communications manager. That’s the person who leads the communication on the website in the event of a crisis, right? The head of communications, you say, will lead how you communicate on the website during a crisis. This is what I think: the communications manager will sit with the management team behind a closed door and try to find a solution to the situation you have ended up in. You will have to roll up your sleeves and lead the work on the website.
Firstly, form a team. Sit in the same room or around the same table. Distribute roles and responsibilities – who finds out the facts, who writes what and who approves publication? Make notes of all the cases and questions that need to be handled, put them up on the wall (or equivalent digitally) so that everyone in the team can see what the status is for the different parts.
Gather all the information about the crisis in one place on the website. It should be a page that you can refer to in the media, in conversations, in reply emails.
Dedicate yourself to the visitor
The best thing you can do is to have a website that breathes and lives the sense that it is there to serve your visitors, ie those who have reason to feel affected by the crisis. Identify the questions visitors have and answer them first and foremost. Make it clear what they can do to achieve their goals. Even if it hits and hurts you.
Depending on what exactly your situation looks like, it can of course vary, but do customers want to cancel their order or do the members want to leave the organization – same thing: It should be at the top of the start page, you must meet visitors with the message they are looking for. This does not mean lying flat and waffling that “the customer is always right”, but the important thing is that you communicate from the visitor’s perspective and on the visitor’s terms.
Your brand will thank you.
Bonus: Prepares you for success
It should be pointed out that much the same applies in success as in crisis. Unexpectedly, many websites can not handle a major setback (of the dignity “manager went to porn club – taxpayers took the bill”), but even more surprising is that many websites can not handle the best case scenario.
A common example is ticket sales, where you often fail if it is really big artists who release tickets. Not only are the sites slow as syrup, it is not uncommon for these websites to completely stop working. Which is understandable, but not in any way defensible. If you sell tickets, you should be able to manage to sell many tickets.
A kinder example is when the Swedish TV show Svenska nyheter urged viewers – at prime time – to sign up for the donation register on the National Board of Health and Welfare’s website. Because the National Board of Health and Welfare had problems getting us citizens to carry out this life-saving act themselves. The viewers were on the notes and a few minutes later the National Board of Health and Welfare’s website went out.
How is this handled in your organization? What is your best possible scenario? Can you handle it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment field.
- K6 (formerly Load Impact) has a great blog on load testing