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A Digital Strategy for a Catastrophe

At some point, a digital strategy is needed to address a catastrophe. It’s time to discuss the steps you need to take to prepare for a catastrophe. From hurricanes to wildfires, riots to the looming threat of nuclear war, anything could happen. As a business owner, you must have a plan for what to do in case of an emergency. The purpose of this plan is to ensure that you can quickly ramp down when a catastrophe hits and immediately ramp back up when you’re ready.

Prepping for a Catastrophe

I’m sitting here writing this post and watching CNN with bated breath. Every time they talk about the path of Hurricane Florence and mention North Carolina, my stomach drops to the floor. Darn, I really should have moved to Alberta! Why did I choose the south? Well, no use in crying over spilled milk now. Anyhow, what happens when a major catastrophe occurs? What do you do with your business?

Even home-based businesses need to have an emergency plan. You know what you’re going to do with your unsold product, raw materials, important papers and such, but do you know what you’re going to do with your web presence? Not a problem, because I’m going to tell you.

Digital Strategy Catastrophe

You must keep your customers aware of what is going on. The worst thing you could do is just disappear. The steps I’m going to discuss can be undertaken prior to the catastrophe or directly after. If you have time to plan, be sure to get the information and answer any questions your customers may have. But, if you don’t have time to plan and you’re working in a reactive state, you need to get the information out as soon as possible. You may not have time to answer questions, and that’s ok. Let’s get into the steps.

The steps provided are just a suggestion. You do not need to implement all of these steps, as some may not be appropriate for your business or customer base. These steps can be implemented during any unplanned event, not just natural disasters.

You can put these steps into motion after a fire, death in the family or any other time where you will have an unexpected gap in service. In addition, there may be some additional steps you’d like to take that is not listed here and that’s fine as well. The goal is to ensure your customers know what’s going on and have a way to monitor your progress back to full capacity.

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Step 1: Adjust Order Dates / Block Out Appointments

The first thing you need to do is block out the dates during which you will be unable to fill orders or take appointments. You can block the time as if it were a holiday, ensuring the system does not allow products to be shipped, received, or delivered during the dates selected. Depending on the type of catastrophic event, you’ll want to be liberal with the amount of time you block off.

If you take appointments and you’re preparing for a snowstorm, plan to be down for a week. If you’re in the north, you may want to plan for two weeks. It’s better to be liberal and not need so much time to recuperate than be conservative and have to cancel on clients. Be sure to add a note on the checkout page reminding customers that shipping will be delayed.

Quick side note: you can shut down the e-commerce portion of your website if you like, but it is not necessary.

Step 2: Contact Open Order Recipients

If you have any orders or appointments scheduled for the timeframe during which you’ll be out of order, contact those customers immediately and reschedule their orders or appointments. Most of the time, customers will be very understanding. However, be prepared to offer the customer an incentive if they are not as understanding as they should be. Incentives could be free shipping, discounted or free product, or an extended service appointment.

Step 3: Post Website Announcement

Post an announcement to your website explaining what your company is unavailable due to an emergency and state the emergency (i.e. flood, death in the family, illness, etc.). The announcement should be a pop-up that shows on every page and is cookie-based. Meaning once a visitor to your website gets the pop-up they don’t get it again for a certain number of days.

If your website was created in WordPress, there are several plugins that can be used to display these types of popups. For shorter outages, set the cookie for three days and seven days for longer outages. In the message, don’t forget to thank the visitor for coming to the site. Be sure to give them an estimated date on which you will be back to full capacity.

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Step 4: Schedule Social Media Posts

Using your social media scheduling tool, you are using one right? Schedule several messages to be posted to your social media accounts during the outage. Remind customers they can still set appointments or order products online, however, delivery and shipping will be delayed. You will want social media posts to go out several times a day across all your platforms.

Step 5: Pause Paid Campaigns

If you are running paid search or social media campaigns, pause them during the time you’re down. You should be monitoring your paid search campaigns on a daily basis. But during a catastrophe, you won’t have time to do that and may not even have Internet access. All paid search platforms make it super simple to pause campaigns. You don’t need to delete them or cancel them altogether. A quick pause will allow you to pick up where you left off when you return to full capacity.

Step 6: Implement Out of Office Message (Don’t Forget Voicemail and Messenger)

Turn on your out of office message through email. You don’t want your customers thinking you’re just ignoring them. In your out of office message, it is to explain why you are away and when they can expect a response from you. Again, be liberal with your time estimations. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Also, change your voicemail message.

If customers call you, you want them to know what’s going on and to know that you may not be able to return their call right away. Your digital strategy method is to provide time estimations and apologize for the inconvenience.

Lastly, if you’re using Facebook Messenger, set up a Facebook bot, that will inform followers you are unavailable, why you’re unavailable and when to expect you back. This covers all digital contact modes. You may also want to turn on an auto-responder for text messaging if that is a mode of communication you use with your customers.

Step 7:  Post Live Updates

Last but not least, it’s always a nice add-on to provide live updates to customers via social media. This gives them a peek into how you are coming back to capacity and gives you an opportunity to adjust timelines if you need to do so. Live updates can be in the form of tweets or live video. Trust me, your customers will be very grateful for the updates.