Get out in front of potentially bad news, online.

Today we talk about what is commonly called “crisis” communications. The basic idea is that when you are in the midst of a crisis, big or small, you need to get in front of it, and show those impacted that you’re on top of the situation while being as transparent as possible about what is happening.  Even if you’re tempted to just sit in a corner and yell your head off.

We recently dealt with a potentially bad situation for our hosting clients (you may be one of them).  We resell the hosting services of Hostgator. Hostgator recently had problems with the servers on which reseller accounts exist. This was causing intermittent issues with the websites we host for our clients, over a period of 24 hours or so.

What did we do? We let clients know about the problem via email as soon as we learned of it, and provided an update later in the day once the problems appeared to have been resolved. A lesser problem a week or so later may have impacted some of our clients’ websites. It was not impacting the ability to visit the public facing side of websites, but was impacting, for some, the ability to make site changes. We did not send out an immediate email to clients on this second problem because we make most updates for our hosting clients and the public’s use of websites did not appear to be impacted. Where we feel that Hostgator failed is by not alerting its reseller customers –GoatCloud being one of them– that a problem existed.

Hiding possibly negative information from you customers is a bad idea. With modern communications, you simply cannot hide for long. Some upset customers will not hesitate to blast you via available communications channels which, we remind, are available for the world to see instantaneously. That’s why we recommend being proactive: get in front of the problem and let people know about it before they find out about it from another source. Then at least you cannot be faulted for not alerting your customers. If you have to be reactive, that can be appropriate, too, as none of us is omniscient. It may be the customer who alerts you to the problem.

Lesson? Here are some concrete

Steps you can take online to deal with crisis communications:

  • Send out email alerts to impacted customers. Keep them informed of the problem’s status.
  • Keep a blog page on your website current with updates on how you are addressing the problem.
  • Create a support section of your website with a knowledge base. Sometimes customers can help each other.
  • Create a social media channel, such as on Twitter, specifically for support issues.
  • Be transparent and even-tempered. Customers may get angry, but never respond to anger with anger online. It may feel satisfying in the moment, but it will haunt you later.

What do you think? Did we miss anything? Did we miss the boat? Leave a comment below.

Photo credit: “an unwitting victim…bwahahhahahaa” by bark on Flickr. Original photo edited. Used with Creative Commons license ( Use does not connote endorsement.

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