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?