If you don’t know what a dark site is now, you’ll hate yourself later

If you don’t know what a dark site is now, you’ll hate yourself later

Crisis communications is becoming more and more important in our increasingly connected world. What could have gone by unnoticed a few years ago, will now be posted, shared and retweeted before we have time to react.

We all know the importance of having a plan in place to protect your corporate reputation. We have a spokesperson lined up and briefed to talk to the press, the customer service team has been briefed to handle the influx of complaints, but when everything is happening at once, some things can slip under the radar. Like poor Olive Garden’s poorly placed advert below.


Don't add fuel to the fire 

A dark site can keep you from looking foolish, inept or just cruel. At the very least, it will help coordinate your responses to the public and make sure that people looking for information can find what they need.

Essentially, a dark site is a back up website that has been built and developed in the background. When disaster strikes, you flip the switch and the dark site takes over from your usual website. It’s toned down, stripped of promotional messages and is dedicated to whatever the current crisis is.

When flight MH370 went missing, Malaysia airlines disaster plan went into action and instantly their website went from this ...


To this ...


They knew that the site would be inundated with news outlets, worried family members and concerned members of the public, so updates on the missing plane became the focal point of the site.

However, it didn’t abandon its core business functions. The site could still operate as before to cater for all the people who still needed to use the company as normal.

Why use a dark site?

During a crisis people will try to communicate with you in unexpected ways. There’ll be phone calls, Tweets, Facebook posts and more. Having a dedicated point of contact that you can direct people to for updates will ensure you deliver a unified and consistent message.

It should also ease the pressure on your staff if there are regular updates going to your site. If people can find the information they want quickly, there’s less need for them to hound you on phone and emails.

Things can go viral. People love other people’s slip ups and it doesn’t take much to be remembered for years after because of an inappropriate reaction. 

How to plan your dark site

  • 1.Work out what you think could go wrong and come up with a list of information people would be looking for. If you already have a disaster recovery plan, this could be a good place to start as it should outline what your response will be in certain situations.
  • 2.Decide what scenarios would trigger putting your dark site online and how soon it needs to go live. Some situations might need immediate action while it might seem excessive for others.
  • 3.Make sure your core business functions are still accessible. For some people it will be just another day so make sure they can still use the site as normal.
  • 4.Link it together with your current disaster plan and involve different departments. Every place you have an interaction with the public needs to be covered. Marketing should be able to pull any automated ads they have, social media sites should direct people to your chosen communication platform and you should delete any scheduled social media posts or Tweets that are due to go out. Any press releases you need to put out should contain a link to your site.
  • 5.Create your dark site, making sure it is keeping with your branding and can be easily edited and updated by someone without IT knowledge.
  • 6.Make sure it can replace your main site indefinitely if needed as some crises can last longer than anticipated.
  • 7.Test that your dark site will cope with large traffic volumes. In a disaster you will experience many more visits than you are used to. If the story is picked up in the media, interest will peak.
  • 8.Put a plan into place to switch your current site to the dark site when it’s needed.

Need advice?

Give us a call or email. We’d be happy to give you help putting together your dark site plan or look at what you have in place at the moment.