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Marketing And Business Initiatives That Can Help Mitigate The Effects Of A Natural Disaster

By November 12, 2012June 26th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
Marketing And Business Initiatives That Can Help Mitigate The Effects Of A Natural Disaster

I live and work just a few miles off of the Jersey Shore. When Hurricane Sandy struck, I suspect it hit harder than anyone expected. Sandy left a great deal of personal pain in its wake. In my office and home we continue to talk about Sandy and her aftermath. This article is about lessons that can be learned from a business perspective that can keep your marketing and communications online – even when you are not.

Think About Adding Content To Your Site Ahead Of Time

If you know a massive storm is coming and the storm can have an impact on your business or customers, consider adding content to your website and social properties that’s relevant to your customers. If your business offers a product or service that will be impacted by the storm, your customers will want to know what to expect.

During Sandy, mobile Internet usage spiked dramatically as people went online to get answers. A lot of that traffic was directed at Facebook and Twitter so make sure your Facebook and Twitter accounts either have links to your announcements or repeat the relevant information

Recognize that when a storm hits, you may not have power or internet and therefore will not have the opportunity to make these changes in real time.

Queue Up A Few Email Campaigns

Email can be a powerful tool when natural disasters hit. With a little planning, you can set them up ahead of time to keep your customers informed. You can also use email as a precautionary tool. For example, you can set up a campaign ahead of time that says, “We have no power today.” If your business has power on the day the email is set to trigger, then you can simply cancel it. The idea here is that if you lose power, you have something on deck just in case, to give your customers a sense of business continuity.

When Sandy hit, I had emails scheduled to deploy over three days to our clients with information on our outage. We ended up losing power for an extended amount of time, so those emails triggered and maintained some continuity with our customers. If we did not lose power or had power restored early, I could have cancelled them before they triggered. We also had different emails crafted for different clients. For example, for our hosting customers, we let them know that their sites were up and running on separate generators. Our customers that do not have a hosting program with us did not see those emails.

Queue Up A Few Social Media Updates

As an extension to queuing emails your business can also schedule social media posts. Using tools like Buffer, you can get your message out before and during the storm to maintain an overall sense of business continuity. As with email, you can tee up messages that relate to business disruptions. Those posts can be deleted or re-queued if the disruptions do not take place or if the impact of the storm changes.

Don’t Present Information Unrelated To Your Business

I see a lot of businesses update their websites with information about storms. This is entirely unnecessary. People can get information about storms in a variety of places. By putting storm information on your site or social pages all you do is obscure the details or information you want to convey to your customers.

Remember that while the storm is hitting, many people may be trying to get to your content on mobile devices. The more content you put up that is irrelevant to them, the more they will have to navigate and thus drain their batteries.

Unless you run a meteorology business, you will never be able to provide up-to-the moment quality information on a storm.

Back Up Your Data In The Cloud

It’s staggering how many businesses do not have a formal backup policy.

To be clear, “Old School” back up methods are no longer reasonable. For example, if you are backing up to tape, you are using a highly undependable system. In this day and age, backups should include two components; (1) backing up locally and (2) backing up remotely (e.g. the cloud).

I’ll dispense with the analogies and just tell you how my company backs up its server(s) and data.

This logic can apply equally to one or more servers or even just a single workstation.

Our servers (which are located in a data center) run 24/7/365. Every 2 hours an “image” or snapshot of every server is taken and stored on a separate storage device. Those images are retained for several months – this is known as “backup retention”. What that means is that the data that is backed up right now will be available for recovery for several months after the fact; even if it is deleted from the source.

Every 3 to 6 hours, all of the images are synced to a location outside of our data center. This means that in the event that our data center meets an untimely end, data can be recovered from a geographically distinct location.

An important factor here is that we use virtual servers. If the data center goes down, I can spin up a virtual server from the remote location without having to buy new hardware, install an operating system and configure the whole server; not to mention recover the data.

If this all sounds like ancient Aramaic to you don’t worry – most of it is to me as well.

That’s why I hire an outside IT agency to set up and monitor my business’ backup system.

To summarize; our servers and data are backed up frequently locally for easy data recovery and also synced to the cloud to offset a potential catastrophic event.

If you can’t describe your backup methodology in a comparably simple fashion, then it’s time to talk to a professional.

Take Your Business Into The Cloud

Do you have a server in your office? Many businesses do because that’s the traditional way of setting up a network. But what happens when your office loses power or worse, when the building is destroyed or flooded? Assuming you have a decent backup methodology, it could still take time to get up and running because you have to acquire new hardware.

All of that goes away if you have your server in the cloud. This means that your server is not physically at your location. It is located “virtually” at a data center that is hardened against power loss and natural disasters depending on which cloud service you select.

Having your server in the cloud also allows you to more easily run your business across multiple locations, run a comprehensive backup and recovery plan, and avoids the pitfalls of loss due to natural disasters.

When it comes to cost, there is also a benefit to moving to the cloud. Hardware and software is expensive. So is all of the supplemental stuff you need to keep a server operating in your office. Plus you have the burden of maintenance and backups.

Cloud based services often include all of these services and advantages in one monthly fee. And if the hard drive dies or the DRAC card burns up or a RAM chip goes bad; guess what – NOT YOUR PROBLEM.

And there are bonus perks; many cloud providers have power provided by multiple power grids so if one fails, the other kicks in seamlessly. When both fail, generator power picks up. Most services use gas-based generators and can theoretically run indefinitely. When Sandy hit, our office lost power for a week, but our client websites and social media campaigns had zero downtime.

That’s business continuity.

As with the section above; don’t try to figure this out on your own. Talk to a professional. I know lots of people who imagined that they could save themselves a ton of dough by shifting to the cloud themselves only to find that their mistakes were costly to undo.

I made a decision a long time ago that I would never open up a server and patch a cable or swap a drive again. I have not regretted it. Neither has my wallet.

In The Aftermath

Recognize that people and businesses are hurting and that they will need to make investments of their own in recovery efforts.

It may be in everyone’s best interest if your business offers some vital services to your customers at discounted rates. It will build good will and just plain make you feel better about yourself.

During the storm and afterwards, we offered all of our clients that had businesses impacted by the storm the opportunity to update their sites with relevant content. We put the content up and then took it down afterwards at no cost.

The labor involved didn’t kill us and we just plain felt good about it in the end.

If you are in or have been in areas affected by natural disasters, what lessons did your business learn?

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Adrienne says:

    Great tips Ralph as we all should be prepared for when Mother Nature rears her ugly head.

    I can sympathize with people who went through Sandy because I live in Houston where the hurricanes usually hit Galveston. The last major one was Ike and that was in 2008. I wasn’t blogging then and didn’t have too much of a business at that time so luckily for me I now know how to prepare.

    Most people don’t realize that even if it’s predicted to not hit, it can turn at the last minute. We were without electricity for ten days and my Mom went for 14. At day six we went to stay with my brother who lived further out of the city limits and had electricity the very next day. Houston was really spooky right after the storm and the entire city was without lights. I’ve never witnessed that before and hope to never witness it again.

    Everything you mentioned here is so crucial and we all need to be prepared. We can all be thankful if a disaster doesn’t strike but knowing we’re prepared will really put our minds at ease.

    Thank you for sharing this with us and I’m so glad you and your family made it through Sandy okay.


    • Last year a hurricane came by my town. The hurricane didn’t hit us too hard, but as it moved North, it shifted direction and it’s tail hit us a for a quick follow up that was harder. Storms get weirder and weirder.

      On the backup front, I hear so many people losing their entire collection of digital photos. Kids, weddings, vacations. Boom. All gone.

      All those memories gone. Heartbreaking.

  • Hi Ralph!
    I hear you loud and clear. Although the storm didn’t hit my home, I did have to house those family members who were homeless at that time. Also working hard at lending a helpful hand. But as for business, we need to think in terms of being prepared also.
    I do have a great back-up because it is one of those things I’m a stickler about. As for my internet business, I was off line for a few weeks because I chose to help out sending things down to storm victims from my town.

    I even wrote a post of how we come back and can get overwhelmed by missing a few beats. Thankfully I have a great network of people I work with.

    I am so glad that you and your family are safe. Also, lending a helping hand by giving people help as you are doing.

    We all need to be conscious of that.

    Great article!

    • Thanks Donna,

      The odd thing about backups is that a lot of vendors offer backup systems for free. There are tons of services that tie into free accounts like Google Docs and DropBox. At this point, there is not even a financial barrier to have even a rudimentary backup system. It’s unfortunate that so many people fly by the seat of their pants.

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Ralph
    Great advice and I am sure if anyone had these steps in place they would be a blessing when and if the storm hits.
    I should think about your recommendations even without a pending hurricane as I am sure then we can be prepared for anything life throws at us. We all face challenges at some time.

    I do back up both on a separate hard drive and in the cloud but I do not have much else done in advance.

    Thanks Ralph


  • Hi Ralph,
    I know you guys were hit hard in New Jersey, and with this all the great lessons you are talking about today.
    Having lots of post in advance is something I have a really hard time with because of the fact that I have 3 blogs and it’s not the only thing that I do, posting my little posts on my blog… I write for other people for pay, everyday 🙂 However, I totally agree with you, having content in advance is really great if you can.
    I also agree that talking about things that are not relevant to your site, even if it’s a mother nature catastrophe, doesn’t make much sense as people will not come to your site for this type of information.
    Thanks for the great tips 🙂

    • I’m really proud of the editor-in-chief. She made sure that the content train kept chugging along when the storm hit. {Web.Search.Social} didn’t miss a day.

      Plus, she’s cute. 🙂

  • itsjessicaann says:

    phenomenal post. the disaster generated plenty of media/marketing faux pas – and it’s important to learn what to do/not to do during a crisis. People tend to react out of fear in scary situations. In turn their messaging comes across as insincere and/or out of touch.

    I ended up posting an article about how to follow hurricane sandy mere hours before the storm hit. I admit that I’m no metereologist. I simply wanted to point people to better sources for up-to-the moment quality information. In retrospect, this may not have been the best approach. But in my defense, I was a weather reporter at one point in my career 🙂