Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy

A White Paper on Dark Websites and Their Alternatives
By Melissa Agnes

Dark websites are a social media crisis management strategy used in different situations by major corporations who want to position themselves as the leading source of information throughout the crisis. Although they may be counter-productive when used by the wrong types of companies, there are some organizations and industries where a dark website may be used in preferred practice. Within this White Paper I’m going to explore: • • • • The benefits of having a dark website Best and worst practices of the dark website strategy Which corporations should most likely consider this strategy What others can do in its stead, when this particular strategy isn't geared for their brand.

First thing’s first, what is a dark website? A dark website is a pre-developed site that is not set live until your corporation finds itself in the midst of a social media crisis. Pre-crisis, a dark website is equipped with the appropriate legal and other documentations that your corporation may feel will be needed, but not have the opportunity to acquire during an attack. In the event of a crisis, the dark site is set live and the appropriate information and details are added to it - such as communications to the public, as well as direct information and news concerning both the crisis and the brand. There are three ways a dark website tends to be used: 1. The regular corporate website is removed and the dark site is temporarily set live in its place. 2. A link is added from the corporate website’s home page, attracting viewers to the dark site - which is set up as an extension of their corporate site. 3. The dark site is set live on its own unique URL, based on the most likely search terms. The ultimate goal during a crisis Whether going the dark website route, or utilizing some other platform for crisis communication, in the midst of an attack, one of your main goals should always be to be the primary source of credible information, for both the public and the media. This allows for: • Control over the content surrounding the crisis (not by hiding or avoiding facts, but by assuring that what is being released into mainstream media is in fact factual)
Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www.MelissaAgnes.com

Long-term accessibility: Once the crisis is over the dark website will be removed and replaced with the regular corporate site. customers. many corporations don’t realize that a dark website has the potential to do just as much damage to their brand over the long-term. is not likely the best strategy for the following reasons: SEO: It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to build up your website’s search engine rankings. but if they come by and the site is temporarily down or changed. This may seem like a good idea (“the crisis is over. Learn more about 503’s here. This highly depends on your choice of execution strategy. prospects.• Assuring customers and prospects that the situation is being taken seriously and that your corporation is committed to them in good times. Best and worst practices for dark website users In their pre-preparing haste.and to specify the amount of time to “come back in”. on many different levels. 1. This. and the affects that these strategies can have on your brand in the long-term. let’s take it down and forget about it”). is how easily and how quickly it can all come crashing down.MelissaAgnes. edit and manage the content in real-time Negative affects: There are many crucial factors that tend to get overlooked when a corporation decides to take down their entire corporate site and replace it with a dark one. but what about those Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www. Note: No matter the execution strategy. We never know when those crawlers are going to come by and crawl through our site. The regular corporate website is removed and the dark site is temporarily set live in its place Thinking: In the time of a crisis. investors and the media will instinctively navigate directly to your corporation’s website for details. Let’s examine the different ways a dark website can be used. The last thing you want is to have your dark website crash in the midst of a severe crisis. then be sure to tell Google that it’s a temporary replacement.com . ! Note: If this is your preferred strategy. What corporations don’t always realize. by putting a 503 “service temporarily unavailable” . your dark website should be hosted with a company that can handle extremely high amounts of traffic. all of your previously indexed pages are going to be replaced. as well as through the bad. Replacing that website with a dark site will show that your brand is: • Completely and fully dedicated to the crisis • Committed to providing them with news and updates as they happen • Easily able to add. that it may do good in the short-run.

prospects. Over-dramatization: Odds are. and are shocked when they find that something so huge has gone down that it is taking all of your company’s resources? Not the best impression on those who were still happy with your brand! When to use this strategy: Don’t get me wrong. and they’re unable to find anything from your brand? Only one side of the story goes down in findable history. And what about those who haven’t yet heard of the crisis and proceed to the website for regular business or informative reasons. However. investors or media relations who want to research the crisis? Likely. the news of the crisis and most definitely the offending communication (the source of the crisis and all comments and blog posts proceeding it) will not disappear. A link is added from your corporate website’s home page.com . after the crisis has passed. either an extension of your corporate site or its own micro-site. terrorist attacks . Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www. but unless the proper measures are taken to resubmit the home page to the major search engines for the crawlers to index the dark site immediately. after the crisis is over. Long-term accessibility: Because the dark site was developed to be. the dark site won’t be optimized for maximum reach and find-ability. 2.future customers. So what happens when someone wants to research the events that happened. I’m talking natural disaster. This is a very important strategy when faced with a major crisis. many of the same downsides do exist when not done properly: SEO: Your brand won’t be faced with the possibility of losing all your corporate search engine rankings like we saw above. it is a possibility that. attracting viewers to the dark site .severe disasters that involve a large portion of the population and call for high alerts and extensive coverage. this is a highly affective strategy. Talk about a great way to hurt your brand in the long run no matter what the results of the crisis were. in the short existence of the crisis. disease epidemic. even in the midst of a crisis.which is set up as an extension of your corporate site For most case scenarios. some form of regular business will continue to happen. your brand will have the opportunity to keep it live and accessible for future viewers wanting to gather facts and/or learn more about the events that occurred. By completely removing the corporate website and replacing it with a dark site you subconsciously deliver a message to your still-happy customers that your company doesn’t have time to provide them with your regular services or products because you’re in the middle of a total melt down.MelissaAgnes.

so this information and dark website would therefore need to be removed from the web at some point in the future . the initial goal to this dark website in the first place: being seen as the primary source of credible information concerning the crisis. though is not a national threat. or simply make the current crisis even worse. Customers wanting to view the site as regular will have the opportunity to do so. most viewers seeking information regarding the crisis will instinctively navigate to your company’s website. If viewers can’t find the appropriate information and details from your organization. while positioning your company or organization as a credible source and leader. and those navigating to the site in hopes of finding more information on the crisis will find the appropriate link immediately upon arrival. the media and the public that you are taking the crisis extremely seriously. it could be presumed that the company was aware that a crisis could arise. which is likely to be content that your company has no control over.MelissaAgnes. no link is placed to the dark site from your company’s corporate website. and to differ from the previous scenario.since most corporations using this strategy usually try to purchase intuitive domain names as part of their pre-crisis preparation? Unless your company purchases something generic. then over-dramatization won't be an issue here. such as “brandnamecrisis.most crises develop their own title during the crisis 2. the dark site is developed on its own URL.which can develop into a whole new attack. and therefore could have prevented the whole situation in the first place .leading back to the same long-term accessibility issues we saw above. In addition. is unsuccessfully achieved.com .com”. Would require a re-use of the same URL for future crises. When to use this strategy: This is a great strategy to use if your company is faced with a social media crisis that. With no link or mention of the crisis on the home page. they will move on to a more easily found source of information. Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www. Probably isn't the most intuitive domain name . if your company does in fact go with some form of a generic domain name. Under-dramatization: As I’ve stated above. 3.Over-dramatization: Since your regular website is being kept as usual (minus perhaps a banner ad or text link placed above the fold). based on the most likely search terms In this context. this: 1. It is set live on its own unique URL. This external site will show stakeholders. The main issues here: Domain name purchase: How does one go about choosing the appropriate URL before a crisis has even struck . is a situation that requires immediate and exclusive attention.

Which corporations and organizations should equip themselves with a dark website? A dark website can be a very beneficial and goal-oriented strategy for the right types of organizations and crises. or other severe and mass-populated crises.MelissaAgnes. as well as massive amounts of information that may. Pharmaceutical companies Crises that involve pharmaceutical companies require legal advice and documentations. (and sometimes 2. in most cases. Never mind an unneeded waste of time and resources to have it all set up. or if a new strain of the SWINE Flue was to emerge. I’m talking about a major transportation crisis. terrorist attacks. But for the regular businesses and typical social media crises. but are not limited to: Cities / Communities / Governmental departments In the event of a massive community or national crisis. or something along the lines of the Costa Concordia Disaster. so a pre-developed dark website is highly beneficial in these circumstances. Airlines / Transport companies I’m not talking United Breaks Guitars here.) is highly effective. and people needed to be quarantined. In severe crises such as these. train collision or malfunction. These organizations include. Hospitals / Health care institutions If a major disease were to break out. be prepared in advance and need to be uploaded pronto. a dark website could potentially be counterproductive and further damaging. then a Dark website would hopefully have been prepared in advance to quickly and efficiently convey the right content and actions to the public in minimal time. These are severe crises that both the public and the media require maximum information in minimal and ongoing time. they don't always tend to be the best solution for regular businesses and their social media attacks.com . setting up an FAQ is a highly affective alternative. such as contaminated water. a dark website as seen in example 1. a dark website is a very useful preparation strategy. Here. For those brands who are faced with a social media crisis and wish to have the same advantages and benefits of a dark-sitedone-right. Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www. such as a potential plain crash. These types of major crises require an enormous amount of information to be distributed to the public in minimal and ongoing time. (the movie Contagion comes to mind here). The best alternative to a dark website Although a dark website makes perfect sense for those mega crises that involve alerting mass amounts of the population. a dark website can be a life saver.

they’ll find it right within their inbox or reader. • As more people link to and visit the post it will gain in search engine rankings.MelissaAgnes. Although setting this up on a dark site is a possibility. • The information within your FAQ stays on your company's website for its duration.com . So instead of having to go look for the information. so is your corporate blog . • Your corporation has the opportunity to title your blog post/FAQ with the most intuitive title in order to be found within the search engines right along side any offending content. • The content is published in a controlled environment. although a very strong and strategic move. So as you can see. • Your FAQ may still be prepared and outlined in advance. The blog page containing the FAQ can easily be promoted directly from the home page or landing pages. an FAQ should include . edit and update content. a dark website. and crisis details. AND your corporation will have the added bonus of gaining new subscribers and possible future customers. and then to set it live.like a dark website . Your corporate blog already exists and the FAQ can be uploaded in minimal time. • The ability to open up the post to comments gives the public a secure place to discuss the issue at hand. Let's take a look at the opportunities that present themselves when this is done correctly: The many advantages: • As a dark website is meant to be easy to add. the most strategic way to go about this is to develop your FAQ on your company's corporate blog. • Customers instinctively navigate to the corporate website for information.In the event of a crisis. • Those who wish to subscribe to updates on the crisis will have the opportunity to do so. as well as offers your brand's advocates and happy customers a targeted place to come to your defense. • It is branded to your company and contains all other appropriate links to your website that a customer or media contact may require. and some legal documentation may still be prepared in preparation before the crisis strikes. increasing its exposure and information find-ability.all appropriate company information. is most beneficial for severe crises that involve: a) A large portion of the population b) Immediate and undivided attention from stakeholders. the media and the public c) Many legal and other documents to be prepared and uploaded in advance d) An extreme amount of information to be shared and updated regularly Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www. • No need to take the necessary time in advance to develop a dark website. without the worry of needing to purchase a domain or predict a crisis before it happens. media contacts. allowing this content to be easily found time and time again as desired. with minimal effort. • Your corporate blog is already equipped with subscribers and regular readers.and the appropriate staff is already accustomed to doing so on a regular basis.

melissaagnes.com.com Dark Websites as a Social Media Crisis Management Strategy! Copyright 2012! White Paper by Melissa Agnes www. Consultant and Speaker. as well as on-call emergency crisis management for companies and organizations of all types and sizes. comments and suggestions. Melissa offers social media crisis management planning. I hope it has provided you with value and insight! I welcome and encourage your feedback. Social Media Crisis Manager. If you’re looking to equip your team with the right crisis management strategy and training. Where should you go from here Although a very important part of your brand’s social media crisis strategy. and I would love to hear how this white paper has helped you develop and/or strengthen your social media crisis plan! You may reach me via email at: melissa@melissaagnes. the corporate blog FAQ is a very strong solution and strategy for the everyday brand faced with a social media attack.com . please visit her website at http://www. then you should definitely consider contacting Melissa Agnes. In closing Thank you for your interest in this white paper. the dark website and/or the strategic FAQ touches only the surface of the full and proper social media crisis management plan that every company and organization needs to be prepared with. with the same goals (and some added advantages).MelissaAgnes.However. For more information regarding Melissa’s services and the effective crisis management she can provide to your company or organization.

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