Disaster Planning for Editors, Part I

When you think about disasters, you probably think of hurricanes, earthquakes, or acts of terrorism. You probably don’t think of editing! But those of us who edit websites, applications, and social media should have a strategy for when disaster strikes.

If you live in an area that’s prone to weather events or earthquakes, you probably already know what you’re supposed to do to protect yourself. You should have a first aid kit and potable water, food for your family and pets, etc. If disaster hits when you’re at work, you likely know where you are supposed to go if your building is evacuated. But what if the disaster takes down your servers or makes your website incredibly slow? Your IT department probably has a plan for data recovery and server backup, but do you have a plan for communicating with your customers?

Here are some ways you can help your team prepare for a disaster well before anything happens.

  • Know what your most business-critical channels are. Which website or application needs to be restored first? What social media channel has the most followers/fans so you can prioritize your messaging?
  • Make sure everyone has a backup, including you. If an unforeseen event impacts your team’s availability, you should have a designated team ready and waiting to step in.
  • Distribute an emergency contact list. Each staff member should have an emergency contact list (include cell or home phone numbers and home email addresses).
  • Secure remote access for critical team members. Make sure your fellow web editors, content managers, and developers have remote access to your content management system so they can update the website from home (or a designated work space, if your company has a back-up work location) if needed. Have your team test out their remote access to make sure it works, especially if they are using home computers.
  • Build helpful error pages. This is good usability practice, but it becomes critical when your website is inaccessible. Don’t use the dreaded  “404” error page. Work with your developers to find out what the experience will look like from a user perspective when all your servers go down. Is there a way they can ensure your audience sees a custom message from your company? Create an error page that includes helpful links to other applications that might still be accessible and phone numbers for customer service. Include links to your social media sites as well, because if the disaster has only affected certain areas and is not widespread, you will likely still have access to your social media accounts and can update your customers through those channels.
  • Determine who will need to approve emergency messaging. When something unforeseen happens, your company will likely want or need to issue a statement. This could mean that people who don’t normally approve your content will now be approvers. Make sure you know who needs to sign off on any emergency statements instead of trying to figure it out in the midst of chaos. (Find out who the back-up approvers are as well, in case the designated approvers are not available.)
  • Be supportive and helpful. If there is a national disaster that does not impact you directly but your company wants to comment on it, make sure your messaging is nothing but helpful and empathetic. Some companies have made the mistake of using a tragic event to promote their product (for example, American Apparel encouraged customers “stuck inside” during Hurricane Sandy to use the time to shop their website; Epicurious suggested that customers try their cranberry scone recipe in response to the Boston Marathon bombing). It’s far better to say nothing than to offend people or take advantage of a tragic situation.
  • Know which reputable charities your company supports. If customers might look to you for suggestions on what they can do to help, make sure you give them accurate information. Know your company’s stance on charities before a tragedy happens and do your research so you don’t direct your customers to an organization you don’t know anything about.
  • Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What questions would your customer have for your company in the event of a disaster? If your company provides an essential product or service, what expectations might customers have about your availability during or immediately after a disaster? Any messaging you craft should address these expectations.
  • Review your content with the disaster in mind. Rethink your existing and planned content in light of the event that has occurred. Is there anything on your website now that you should remove or edit to reflect what has happened (either from a factual or empathetic standpoint)? Or is there content you have scheduled that you need to postpone or scrap altogether?  For example, say you were planning a series of travel articles about the Gulf Coast, but the Gulf was just struck by a deadly hurricane. You will likely want to postpone that series until the coast has recovered from the damage. (Don’t forget pre-scheduled email newsletters, partner content that you might not directly control, and quarterly or monthly communications will need to be reviewed too.)

In my August post, I’ll review how editors can help plan for a very different kind of event: the public relations disaster.

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4 thoughts on “Disaster Planning for Editors, Part I

  1. Thanks for the great tips.

    Especially the reminder to be supportive and helpful. Trying to capitalize on a tragedy may bring short term gain, but the ill will after will not help your business over the long term.

    I look forward to the next post on public relations.

    • Thanks Jason! I agree – capitalizing on tragedy is never appropriate. Unfortunately it seems that people sometimes get caught up in their marketing and PR roles and make unwise decisions.

  2. Pingback: Disaster Planning for Editors Part II | Web Editors

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