Reputation Management: Dark Websites for Crisis Response

Dark Websites for Crisis Response

Today’s Internet-driven world propels information — especially the negative or controversial — at near instantaneous speeds 24/7/365. A dark website can be one of the critical tools in your toolbox that enables you to manage a crisis successfully.

What is a dark site?
When bad news or an emergency suddenly strikes an organization, its website is ordinarily the first place the outside world turns to for information. Given the extreme time pressure inherent in crisis management today, there is just no time to construct a new crisis site from scratch. Instead, a prebuilt dark site can be quickly “turned on” as needed during a crisis management situation.

When do you use one?
Your company or organization can send the wrong message if you adopt a business-as-usual mindset and continue using your website for regular business while you’re in the middle of a crisis. A dark site can be utilized in one of three ways: (1) the everyday website is completely removed and replaced with the dark site; (2) a link to the dark site is prominently displayed on the home page; or (3) a separate URL is created based on the most likely/obvious search terms.

Why use a dark site?
A dark site serves a number of key strategic purposes. Most important, it positions the organization to be the primary source of crisis information. This helps suppress and control dangerous rumors and speculation. Similarly, it signals the news media that you intend to provide timely, accurate information, thus encouraging them to make you their first source in more balanced coverage. Your transparent behavior demonstrates that you are in control and take your responsibilities seriously. Concerned members of the public judge your behavior in this way. When your own website becomes a source of credible information, it translates directly into trust. Not communicating is seen as hiding, which frequently causes crises to assume deadly new dynamics when they expand into the online universe.

How does a dark site differ from a website used by a company during normal business?
The key differentiator is the type of content the site carries. During normal operations, websites promote a company or organization and its products or services. But during a crisis, stakeholders want, need and expect very different, specific and consistent factual information from a trusted source.

Dark sites tell all concerned people:

  • Any available facts about what happened as part of an opening or initial statement describing the crisis event and the organization’s response.
  • Special instructions telling everyone affected by the crisis what they must or must not do.
  • What specific steps are being taken to get the situation back to normal.
  • Relevant background information describing the organization, the causes, nature and likely impact of the crisis; in short, anything that promotes clear understanding of the situation.
  • Contact information for the news media.
  • Contact information for members of the public affected by the crisis.
  • Regular fact- and action-based updates.

Cost and timing
Rapid response time is one of the two key factors in successfully managing a crisis situation. A prebuilt dark site can be customized and made live in a matter of hours.

When there is no crisis, constructing a dark site typically requires between two to four weeks, depending on an organization’s ability to provide approved content.

Extensive content customization and levels of social media integration can add to costs. However, because of their intended usage environment, we strongly recommend that dark sites be kept simple and unadorned, and thus very cost-effective.

Stephen Bell Reputation Management

Under Steve’s direction, EMA’s reputation management practice provides controversial issues counsel and crisis communications to wide range of public and private sector clients.

  • (716) 880-1449
  • sbell at mower dot com