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Dark sites: What are they?

By Wendy Bulawa Agudelo

42022948_sUnderstanding an important tool for crisis management

Experienced PR firms that are skilled in crisis communications work closely with their clients to build “dark sites” (aka blind sites, black sites or ghost sites). Dark sites are fully functional, pre-packaged web pages prepared for immediate publishing in the event of a crisis. Dark sites are so named because they reside in a different layer of the Internet than the layer most of us typically use, and their main purpose is to communicate accurate and timely information, given the immediacy of viral social media.

Imagine your business is the growing, packaging and distribution of spinach. This healthy, nutrient-dense vegetable requires much care from the seed stage to the green smoothie or salad stage and, given the various steps along the way, a hiccup can sometimes occur. Weather could cause a drought or reduce spinach yield; washing equipment could fail causing buildup of dirt or bacteria; or your CEO could suddenly get injured while operating large equipment during a facility tour. In any of these instances, your business may come under public scrutiny. What information should you share? Where do you send customers demanding a rebate or threatening a lawsuit? Because the onslaught of concerns and questions can be overwhelming during a crisis, savvy business owners anticipate and dutifully prepare for them.

When people seek immediate updates, they instinctively navigate to a main website – especially during a crisis. Therefore, company webpages are incredibly valuable for communicating responses, updates and remedies. Dark sites become those pre-packaged pages that can instantaneously replace or supplement a company’s regular website when a crisis occurs and transparency is required. Dark sites provide various benefits in our digitally driven atmosphere. They shorten response times, contain timely and accurate details and provide immediate reassurance to consumers. Dark sites, in short, highlight a business’s command of a situation, while also providing:

  • A direct, one-stop hub. Dark sites, separate from normal business operations pages, serve as a primary source of information about the most topical and relevant concerns at any moment. Through these pages, a business can deliver updates, testing results, remedies, contact information, FAQs, comments from executives and more.

  • Explanation of a business’s position. Recently, the Huggies brand experienced a social media crisis when a handful of concerned moms posted videos showing baby wipes that seemed to be filled with glass particles, and those videos went viral. In response, Huggies launched a dark site outlining the results of independent lab testing; an explanation as to why the wipes may have crystallization; and included customer hotlines for coupon disbursement. By acting quickly, Huggies was able to disseminate accurate information to the media, while also highlighting how concerned consumers could move forward. This strategy helped to avoid further rumors or speculation.

  • Support of all business relationships. Dark sites deliver a single-source forum during a crisis where information is shared and updated as needed. When all involved parties (the press, consumers, business partners or others) know your business is on top of a crisis, it has an immediate calming effect.

With the immediacy of the digital era, rapid response time is no longer viewed as an attribute. Now it’s an absolute necessity – especially during a crisis. Step #1 is to be prepared, and dark sites provide one level of preparation. Download Axia PR’s Managing Public Relations in a Crisis to get additional tips on crisis preparation.

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Wendy-colorWendy Bulawa Agudelo has more than 15 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and non-profit public relations. She regularly pens feature articles on parenting topics for Bay State Parent Magazine, serves on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force, is a culinary enthusiast and champion for the special needs community.

Featured image credit: 123rf.com

Topics: public relations, crisis communications, shared media

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