Internet Outage Crash Your Website? The Marketer's Response Plan

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Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin



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Internet down? Don't get caught with your pants down, too.

Earlier last week, Amazon experienced a significant outage at their North Virginia data center. The outage affected large portions of the internet, including popular sites like Pinterest, Reddit, Foursquare, Airbnb, and even HubSpot for several hours Monday afternoon. 

Furthermore, today much of the Eastern seaboard is expecting (or already experiencing) a hurricane. No doubt the internet -- not to mention countless other things -- may not be operating as usual.

When an outage of this magnitude happens, all types of businesses (and marketers) are affected. Ecommerce sites can't make sales; lead generation sites stop getting leads; and ad driven sites stop getting visitors. As a marketer, you can cry about all the revenue you're missing out on ... or you can do something about it. 

While you can't really call up Amazon and give 'em an earful (it wouldn't be productive if you could), you can try to prepare for the next time one of these outages happens. With a little more preparation, you might suffer just a little bit less pain and agony. Here are some things you can do to prepare for when the internet just ... gives out on ya. Or if you prefer a different format, check out this short video of Mike Volpe (and me!) chatting about the subject.

What to Do When Someone Unplugs the Internet

1) Have a Killer "Site Down" Page

When your site experiences problems, the standard site unavailable page looks something like this:

503 error resized 600

Yawn. In most cases, you can customize this so that users see something branded. Put a little effort in and work with your design team to come up with something great that represents your brand, and gets the message across. Do you want to be witty? Entertaining? Sympathetic? Find something that sets the right tone for your business, and also lets them know that you're aware there's a problem. HubSpot's site unavailable page, for instance, features one of our very own for a touch of whimsy. 


2) Communicate!

In any situation where people might be disappointed or let down, communication is key. Even if it isn't your fault. Thing is, you know you have no control over a third party's outage ... but your customers either don't know, or don't care. Or both.

If your website is down, you have to be both creative and effective in how you communicate with people. Posting a message on your homepage isn't enough. Make sure you have multiple approaches to communication at your finger tips. This allows you to identify those that aren't working, and focus your energy where it will make an impact. Consider:

  • Twitter - Share updates on this more than once; one tweet will get lost in the fast-paced Twitter shuffle.
  • Facebook - Consider highlighting the post so it takes up more real estate on your Timeline.
  • LinkedIn - Simply post this as a status update, but include a link to another property for those that need more information on the outage.
  • Smoke signals, or anything else you have at your disposal to get your voice heard. 

3) Remember Your Customers

Leads are important, sure, but you shouldn't forget your current customers. If customers are impacted by an outage, you are better off proactively letting them know than letting them find out on their own. Discuss the severity of the situation, and figure out what kind of response is necessary. Sometimes social media outreach is enough, but if the problem is more severe, you might want to consider emailing your customers to let them know. 

Also consider having a back up site that is hosted someplace completely different. For example, HubSpot has, which is hosted in an entirely different location and shouldn't be affected by an outage at our main data center. Customers know this is where they should go to learn about issues, so if there is a large internet outage, we can hopefully always have a place to update those who will be impacted.



4) Have a Sense of Humor

S*#t happens. Lots of companies lost business the other day, and might lose it today, too. You can cry and moan about revenue lost, but it won't change the outcome. Keep your head on straight, stay calm, and try to laugh about how much we all rely on the internet these days. Balance a sense of humor and sense of understanding for what your customers are doing through in your communications and messaging. Unless, of course, the internet is down because of something dangerous, like a hurricane -- safety really isn't a laughing matter. But in general, keeping a light-hearted tone will help those affected will respond better, and keep an internet outage in perspective.

5) Prepare for the Next Outage

While you should keep your sense of humor in the midst of the outage, when everything's up and running like normal, ask the right questions and make sure you are prepared for the next time. Some questions to discuss with your IT team might be:

  • What caused the outage, and could if have been prevented?
  • Do we have the right kind of backup systems?
  • Should we look into better redundancy?
  • Can we improve our responses when something like this happens again? 

In the end, as a marketer, you probably aren't working on bringing your website or the internet back online. But if you can keep your community, your leads, and you customers happy, it will reduce the impact of those outages on your business. 

Was your business affected by the Amazon outage? What else will you do to prepare for future instances of these outages?

Image credit: 4nitsirk

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