Prepare for the Worst: Using Content to Prepare for and Mitigate Disaster

By Troy Lambert, - In Marketing

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Photo Credit: stockphotosecrets

Let’s start with the basics. Every business, every startup of every size and shape, should have a disaster preparedness program, and they should test it on a regular basis, at least annually. Such plans should also be tested whenever there is a significant change of material circumstances such as a move, or a change in internet service providers or servers.

Why? Because a full 25% of companies never reopen after a natural disaster due to the fact that a sobering 60% do not have a disaster preparedness plan at all. Don’t despair though if you don’t have one. Even the largest companies who have plans, but do not test them the way they should struggle to recover from disaster.

What does this have to do with the content kingdom you have worked so hard to build? First, because natural disasters are not the only kinds of disasters and any disaster can disrupt your content the same way it does your supply chain.

What is Disaster?

There are a few kinds of disasters any business may have to deal with:

Natural Disaster

Picture of Molten lava erupts from Stromboli Sicily

Lava eruption

The first type that comes to mind is the natural kind: earthquakes, tornados, snowstorms, tsunamis, landslides, floods, and fires. Different areas are susceptible to these in differing degrees. These are classified as “acts of God” and for the most part are beyond business control, at least once you have selected your location.

Man-Made Disaster

Man-made disasters can vary from building and engineering failures to deliberate acts of sabotage or terrorism. These are defined as any catastrophic events triggered by human activity.

Public Relations Disasters

These are disasters that cause damage to your brand or business reputation, and come in a couple of forms

  • Data Breaches. As e-commerce becomes the norm rather than the exception for many companies, businesses data security becomes a vital part of disaster preparedness. Several high-profile data breaches including Target and Home Depot have involved hackers entering through hacking an outside vendor who has access to your data as part of your company’s supply chain. If customers cannot trust your company to protect their data, they also lose trust in your content and its validity. Your content will need to shift from feeding the marketing funnel to rebuilding trust in current customers, potential customers, and the general public.
  • Negative Consumer Reactions. This can come in the form of negative business reviews, harsh reaction to a social media or blog post, or even a poor reaction to a corporate or sponsored hashtag on Twitter or elsewhere. This can also stem from how your company handled a natural or other disaster. An example is the recent Delta power outage that grounded thousands of flights. The company was highly criticized for the inconvenience caused to passengers and inadequate compensation offered in return.

While none of these disasters can be prevented 100% of the time, they can be prepared for and mitigated when they do occur. A part of that strategy should be a center around the content you have created, are creating, and plan to continue to create. What does this content strategy look like, and what should it do?


The content on your website can be a part of your disaster preparedness plan, and the fact that you have one and are open about it can be really reassuring to your customers.

Talk about your company structure and what customers can expect in case of an emergency or disaster. Do you have a remote workforce, so that work can continue regardless of what happens at your physical location? Do you have a backup manufacturing and/or distribution strategy just in case?  What tests have you run in relation to your disaster preparedness plan?

You don’t have to publish the confidential details of your plan. Having content already in place ensures you do not have to scramble to create it should a disaster occur or even in the event of a pending one. Let customers know a few simple things:

  • An emergency phone number
  • An email that will be monitored in case of an emergency or disaster
  • Alternate contacts in case your primary contact information fails
  • A link to a place to find out more information, the page where you will post updates and details about what is happening and timelines for service or productivity to be restored.
  • The fact that you are prepared to deal with a variety of circumstances with as little inconvenience to your customers as possible.

This does not have to be a feature on your blog. It can be a page on your website under the About Us tab, and even linked there. It is easy enough to move or feature this if  disaster strikes since it is already created.

Talk About Other Disasters That Have Happened In Your Industry

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From hardware failures (Southwest) to more systemic failures (Delta), highlight the underlying causes for these disasters and ways you are prepared to handle them differently.

Talk About Security, But Don’t Brag

Talk about online security and how seriously you take it. Explain how you keep data secure, and how this technology evolves as new threats come to light. However, do not brag about how you are the best, unless security is actually your business. This can be seen as a challenge to hackers and others with nefarious intentions.

The key with this content is to let your customers know you understand risk, are prepared for it as you can be, and that they are your priority through any difficult circumstances.


In the event a disaster of any type occurs, the content you post publicly both on your site and others will reveal to your customer how you are dealing with it, and will help establish or maintain their trust in you and your brand. BP made efforts after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to assuage public opinion with moderate success.

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Note that although they made significant effort, including millions in paid television and print advertising, there were still those who felt they did not handle the situation well. Whatever your final opinion of BP, the point is that they immediately used content to spread a positive message.

Apologize, Without Excuse

No matter whether the disaster is natural, manmade, or one you or a representative of your company had created through a public relations error, let people know that you are sorry, and mean it. Even in the case of a natural disaster, apologize for the inconvenience and let your customers know you are working to return to normal operations as soon as possible. Do not offer excuses or blame others, including Mother Nature, even if the disaster is not your fault.

Reveal The Actions You Are Taking

Are you moving? Rebuilding? Firing that executive or marketing representative who made the erroneous or malicious statements? Don’t keep the information confidential unless it is absolutely essential or could lead to worse consequences, like litigation.

The instinct to keep things quiet is born out of fear: fear of how your competition will use the information you reveal or how certain groups of your customers might react. Most customers value honesty and transparency above perfection anyway, and if done properly your revelations won’t give away any secrets to your competition.

Instead, they show your customer that you are courageous in the face of adversity even if that means some risk.

Public Relations Failures

When responding to a public relations failure, you will have to work to build trust again. Swift response and transparency is essential. Responding to this type of disaster is different, because they are your fault, or at least your company’s fault.

Bad Reviews

Even companies with the best product or service get bad reviews. It does not have to turn into a disaster, but it can if you respond in a negative way. Validate the complaint, apologize, thank them for bringing the problem to your attention, and look for truth in the user’s statements.

While occasionally you will get trolls and reviews that are not legitimate, no business is perfect, so evaluate each comment to see what you could be doing better. Address issues first with the customer, and then address them again publicly in your content. Describe how you plan to improve and follow through.

Erroneous or Malicious Statements

In the world of instant news where everyone has a camera in their pocket and access to social media, you or someone from your company will say something that is taken out of context, is in error, or may have even been malicious and said in a moment of weakness, and it will be shared publicly.

Do not ignore these issues. Acknowledge them and address them head on. As with other disastrous circumstances, apologize, take responsibility, and take appropriate action. This may lead to some difficult choices, but they may be essential to show your customers you sincerely care about the situation.

Think of your content as a conversation starter. Address issues as they arise, and invite interaction and dialogue.

Hashtags and other Faux Pas

Verizon recently sponsored a hashtag on Twitter, #GotVerizon. They intended for it to be a positive discussion of the benefits of being a Verizon customer. The results were different than they anticipated, as hundreds of complaints about pricing and service were posted using the hashtag.

The company responded to each and every one, and offered solutions where they could, apologizing for where they could not. Other companies, including McDonald’s have had the same results. Social media is essential for your business, but you need to follow some simple tips:

  • Don’t be too serious with your posts, but avoid controversial subjects
  • Respond to complaints and messages in real time
  • Research and try to anticipate the effect of paid ads and sponsored hashtags


You can’t be perfect, and not all disasters can be avoided. In fact, disasters of many kinds can strike at any time. Having a plan and being prepared is essential. Your content can and should be a part of that plan. In every case, responding by apologizing, taking responsibility, and taking appropriate corrective action where possible is essential. Using your content to highlight those actions shows your sincerity and desire to improve.


Freelance writer, editor, author, and lover of all things tech.