Prepare your brand for an online emergency

In Online Presence, Web Design by Rachel Di Martino

The first week of May is Emergency Preparedness Week. While I’d love to chat about zombie apocalypse survival tactics – like wouldn’t you be super disappointed if puncturing the head of a zombie didn’t kill it? Pop culture would have been a big disappointment… Anyway, we’re not here for that.

For Emergency Preparedness Week, let’s talk about easy ways you can prepare your brand for an online emergency (which, like the zombie apocalypse, we hope never comes).

The first thing I want you to do in any of the following situations is DON’T PANIC. Your business and brand will survive this bump in the road. That said, here are some ways to prepare.

Your website is hacked

If your website is hacked, the first think I’d like to do is give you a warm congratulations and welcome you to the club. More than 1.5 million websites get hacked every month, so you’re in good company.

How to prepare for this scenario

Take regular backups of your website. If you’re on WordPress, most hosting providers offer some form of this for free. But sometimes require you to retrieve your own copy for your records. Check with your hosting provider and download copies regularly. If they don’t, you can get a free plugin like ManageWP and take backups externally. If you’re not on WordPress, check with your provider about security.

Get malware protection. I use SiteLock for WordPress which costs me about $30/month. They scan my site and remove malware 24/7 so I don’t have to worry about it. They also have malware clean up services if you just want a one-off without getting their monthly service. If you’re not on WordPress, most providers have malware protection built-in, but you can check with your provider.

Have a strong password. There is no excuse for not having a strong password anymore. It’s so easy these days with services that will remember your password for you and you can always click the “forgot my password” link to get a new one.

Keep your theme and plugins up to date. The majority of malware is injected in crappy or outdated plugins and themes. Make sure you are logging into your dashboard regularly (at least once per month, if not more) and keeping everything up to date. Only use plugins that have been updated by the developer recently, have a good rating, and some kind of support.

You get kicked out of a social media account

This has happened to me before, and I hear it happens to other business owners from time to time.

This is my story.

I had used Twitter to sign up for Pinterest way back in 2011 or so. I pumped Twitter and Pinterest pretty hard back then and grew my following to the thousands on both platforms. But after a year or two, I dwindled at posting on either platform and eventually stopped logging in. However, my Pinterest had something like 6K followers a month, which is pretty good. So when I was posting again, I wanted in. But at some point, I had re-branded and Twitter wasn’t the same username or email as I had used for Pinterest, and Pinterest had changed their log in to focus on Google accounts, not Twitter. Long story short, I couldn’t log into Pinterest and I didn’t have a recovery account because the email I used for Twitter was no longer valid. So when I started my business again and wanted to pick up that Pinterest clout I’d built – I couldn’t get it.

I ended up emailing their customer service and through a series of back and forth emails over several days, I was able to prove I was the owner of this particular account and given access.

But this isn’t about me and my story because there are all kinds of reasons people get kicked out of social media, especially today with a crack down on spam accounts. The important thing is, during this process I had to be “ok” with losing my Pinterest and starting from scratch and the reality is, you need to be “ok” with that too.

How to prepare for this scenario

Firstly, you should NEVER build your business in someone else’s house. When you build an empire on social media, you’re building in someone else’s house that you can get kicked out of any time. I want you to acknowledge that the hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousand followers on your social media could all be gone tomorrow. Got that?! Good. I want you to build your business in a way that would survive if you didn’t have a following on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, or whatever.

Capture emails of your followers. Statistically, emails have higher engagement and sales potential than social media accounts do. That means it’s better business for you to get someone’s email address than have them as a follower. Think of ways to actively grow your email list from your social media following.

Don’t be spammy. Social media platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram, are cracking down on spam or community violating accounts. But they do it using automation, which means a bot looks for clues that your account is spam or violating community guidelines. If you are suspected of violation, they shut you down without having a real human assess the situation. This leads to well-meaning breastfeeding advocates getting banned when posting a boob pic, bloggers getting shut down when sharing too much on multiple groups, and non-pornographic sex experts – who just want to help you spice up your marriage – getting kicked out of groups. The list goes on and on. The key here is to make sure you’re not violating community standards, which can be vague (and frustrating). If your brand or business blurs the lines – like our sex expert – be sure to use safe words that won’t set off the bot alarm bells, like “intimacy” instead of “sex”. But it’s not just words or images that can get you in trouble. Copy/pasting the same post into a bunch of groups or suddenly posting a lot is also bad behavior that can get you locked out temporarily. If that happens, learn from that experience and don’t do it again.

Have multiple sources of leads for you business. This goes back to the first point, which is not to build your business on social media in the first place. Mostly because it can be taken away from you in an instant. Make sure social media only makes up a small percentage of your leads that you can easily replace or recoup from if it all disappeared tomorrow. This might mean real-life networking, improving your SEO, getting more inbound links, asking for customer referrals, concentrating on customer retention, having a strong presence on more than one social media platform, etc.

You get blocked from your email marketing platform

This also happened to me while managing an email list of 50,000 people long before I started my own business. I have to say it wasn’t totally my fault, since the error that was made was “strike three”, and I had only been managing the emails for about a month, and was not the owner of strike one and two. But I also wasn’t particularly savvy of email spam regulations when I was handed the reins to 50K people’s email addresses. I am now.

Here’s what happened.

The organization violated the CAN-SPAM regulations which (at the time) said the business can’t contact someone if the user had opt-ed out of communications. This particular company I was working for had several lists, but technically it was all the same company. Several lists was a messy solution to complying with spam policies. When someone opt-ed out of one list, they weren’t removed from the other lists, so when they were contacted again (even though they thought they opt-ed out), they rightfully got angry and complained. Since the organization I was working for had a history of breaking the rules, we got shutdown on the email platform.

But there are other reasons you may lose access to your email marketing platform. For example, just before the summer of 2019 MailChimp and Shopify announced they would discontinue working together. This left many Shopify users who relied on MailChimp SOL for their email marketing.

How to prepare for this scenario

Take regular exports of your email list for your records. Once per month is fine, unless you have periods with a lot of sudden growth, then you might want to do more often. Those emails belong to YOUR business, not to the email platform you’re on. That means you need to take 100% responsibility for back-ups of that list.

Be very familiar with CAN-SPAM regulation (or whatever regulations apply to your business). You can review with these handy tips.

Only use emails with permission, and keep records of where your emails come from. If you’re ingesting people into your list manually, like if you did a live event, make sure you record in a note where you got their email from so if someone complains you can refer back to when/where they gave permission.

Be ready to change providers. Honestly, when the organization I was working for was kicked off the email platform they were with, we just migrated to another platform and kept going. This was made possible because I did keep regular back-ups of the email list we owned.

Bad reviews online

If this has happened to you, I’m sorry. I’ve seen first hand a well established and respected local business taken down within days on social media because of one customer (who was also launching a book and had reason to want media attention) told a one-sided story, then publicly shared that story to key people on social media to stir up public outrage. That business was then inundated with almost a hundred 1-star reviews from people who had never visited the place. They were just leaving a 1-star review based off the outrage they felt at this unconfirmed story someone told. I’m not saying either party was right or wrong (or lying), my point is – I can see how bad reviews can be damaging.

For most business owners who are genuinely doing a great job, a bad review is usually one person who had a bad day, a misunderstanding, or a fake one posted when a competitor hires a third-party company to improve their search engine results by bashing the competition.

How to prepare for this scenario

Decide on your response before you get a bad review. You should almost always respond to any review online. The readers who are looking for reviews will quickly think more highly of you if you’re actively engaging in comments – both good and bad. In any case, you’re not trying to engage in conversation with the reviewer. In fact, you want to take any conversation with the reviewer OFF of a public forum and into a phone call. What you’re doing by commenting is showing other people who come across the review that you’re not a bad business owner (because of course you’re not!)

Often times a really bad review is left by someone who wasn’t even a customer. Or, if it’s a genuine customer then they’re usually just having a bad day and perhaps was served by someone on your team who didn’t meet their expectations.

In the first scenario, your response should (nicely) call them out for not actually being part of your clientele. Include something like “Hi (name), I checked our records and don’t have you on file as having been one of our customers. If there’s been a mistake or we failed to meet your expectations, please don’t hesitate to contact us at xxx-xxx-xxxx and we’ll make it right.”

In the second scenario, try to avoid sly remarks or proving your right. Remember, you’re commenting for the purpose of other people, not to engage in a conversation with the reviewer. Something like “Hi (name), we feel terrible that you had a less than perfect experience because customer satisfaction is our top priority. Please call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx so we can make it right.”

Maybe you’ve had a mid-range review (like 3/5 stars), you can leave something like “Hi (name), thank you so much for taking the time to leave a review. We’ve taken your suggestions to heart and improved our customer experience in these areas. Please don’t hesitate to call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx to give us a second chance at making your next visit a 5-star experience.”

… I could go on and on, but I hope you get the picture. If you have these pre-made, you won’t answer a bad review from a feeling of anger or hurt feelings.

Limit reviews to one key place. After that incident I witnessed where a business destroyed by one unconfirmed story on social media, I turned off my Facebook reviews and limited all my reviews to one place. This meant I spent less time monitoring and collecting reviews, and stopped worrying all together about some random review from someone who I haven’t worked with. For most businesses with an overall healthy online presence, having Facebook reviews are doing nothing to help your business (there are some exceptions, so feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like some feedback on your particular circumstance). If you’re a service based business, a Google Business Page would be a good place for reviews since it will help you come to the top of a search in your industry for near-by results. If you’re a product based business, allow reviews on your website’s product page and focus on getting bloggers and media outlets to review your products. Just make sure the reviews on your website are searchable (work with your web developer if you’re unsure about it).

Nasty social media comments

Sometimes people on social media are just jerks having a bad day or bots set on troll mode. More often, a nasty social media comment is coming from someone with their own baggage and probably didn’t understand the wonderful, loving message you’re putting out into the world. What can I say? Haters gonna hate.

How to prepare for this scenario

Don’t take these things personally. If you’ve ever read The Four Agreements (I’m 100% ok with you stopping this blog right now to go check it out because it’s that good), one of the agreements is to not take anything personally. It’s wonderful advice which especially goes for online stuff. The online world has created a sense of anonymity that has let the righteous, gossipy, angry, jealous monsters inside us loose. When someone posts a comment on a social media post, they’ve often disconnected that there’s a person behind the post. It’s a bit like when you’re driving, and someone cuts you off or is driving below the speed limit in front of you (Gah! Just go the speed limit damn it!!), so you yell your best profanity at them alone in your car where no one hears. You’re acting in a way that you probably wouldn’t if you didn’t have the protection of your car. If someone cut me off in line at the grocery store, I wouldn’t yell “JERK!!” at the top of my lungs. Although, that would be kind of hilarious. And the reality is when I do yell in my car, it’s because I’m frustrated at something else. When we’re not engaging in face-to-face conversations, we don’t feel the other person’s energy and connection so we see them through a made-up filter based on very little real information. That filter is a bias that could be rooted in a negative place for us. The anger that is put into a comment is usually the result of showing off the hurt and frustrations that are already there within the person commenting. They have absolutely nothing to do with your original post. So don’t take it personally – it’s them, not you.

Be ok with deleting. I’ve posted a how-to comment in reply to someone’s question about how to do something on their website they were struggling with. Their quick reply was they didn’t know how to do what I had explained, so I replied they could get a developer to help them and that it “was an easy fix that takes a couple minutes”. Well that made them upset because they thought I meant they should know how to do it because it’s “quick and easy”, and they wrote a lengthy reply bearing their insecurities about being “stupid” for not knowing how. Moments later, someone else jumped in to say I should be helpful and not tear down others. My comment was taken COMPLETELY out of context. My intention was to let them know it was a quick and easy job for a developer so she didn’t get ripped off or charged for several hours of work. I did not mean to make them feel bad for not knowing how to do something. And for those who know me, I’m not like that at all. My point is – sometimes your post or comment is just read the wrong way. It’s perfectly fine to delete and start over or edit to clarify or just delete and move on. In that scenario, I deleted and moved on.

Have an arsenal of witty responses. This one might not work for everyone since witty repartee is not everyone’s forte. But if you are cheeky and that vibes with your branding, then go ahead and let loose the fun when someone trolls you online. Just be sure that type of humor matches with your target audience. Remember that your responses are public so they shouldn’t be mean and sarcasm doesn’t translate well online, so take this advice with caution.

Your website is down

You got Takei’d! Do the kids still call it that?… Takei’d means you got too much traffic to your website suddenly and it went down because it exceeded the bandwidth. It basically means you got too popular too fast. Takei’d comes from George Takei (of Star Trek fame) who has an impressive social media following and often shares articles and sites he found online. But sometimes what he shared would become so popular so fast, that it would crash, and the term Takei’d was born.

Of course, there are lots of other reasons why your website may go down suddenly. Malware can cause your site to be shut down, a server error that is not your fault, power outages, forgot to pay your renewal fees… all kinds of things.

If your website does go down and you’re not sure why, contact your host provider right away.

How to prepare for this scenario

Have a Google Business Page. If you got popular suddenly, and people were unable to reach your website, they can at least find your contact info via your Google Business Page.

Notify your audience via social media. Quickly post on your social media streams that your website is down, how to contact you in the mean time, and that you’re working on getting it back up fast.

Get flexible bandwidth with your host provider. Good hosting companies will give you an allowance if you suddenly have a jump in traffic. You can contact your host provider and ask them to confirm your website will stay up if your traffic suddenly increases unexpectedly.

Prepare for big events. I see this sometimes when a mid-sized company has an online event that they just weren’t ready for technically, and their site or registration goes down. Know that if you’re doing a big marketing push, there could be thousands of people trying to register at the same time. Work with your developers to ensure your system can handle multiple requests at once. If it can’t, consider staggering your marketing so that not everyone hears about it at the exact same time. Or, you can have a page or post that gives an alternative place to register (like via email or phone).

Keep your billing up to date. Sometimes your website can go down because you forgot to update your credit card on file (this has happened to me before). Make sure your account is up to date and you know when the renewal is up. I put a notice in my calendar so I don’t forget ever again.

Install an up-time monitor. Your site could go down because the hosting company is having issues. ManageWP has an up-time monitor for $1/month that will notify you when your site goes down and for how long it was offline. If your site is down a lot each month (even 1% of the time is a lot), then consider moving to another hosting platform.

The world wide web doesn’t exist any more

This is a real possibility. If the digital apocalypse is upon us and your social media profiles are dust, your website is gone, and your funnels have dried up, then I would encourage you to realize you’re still alive and the heart of an entrepreneur beats strong within you. You’ll make the best of this my friend, and build a life that will survive. Best of luck to you!

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About the Author

Rachel Di Martino

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Rachel is the owner of Geek Unicorn. She helps women-driven businesses elevate to a professional playing field by creating brands and websites that stand out online, like a Unicorn in a field of horses. On top of that, she's a shameless sharer of knowledge and loves to give away her best web design, branding, and SEO tips.