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A major component of IT support is crisis management, but a lot of people who are good with technology aren’t always so great with words. That’s why so many utilize the services of an IT marketing company. Today, you get a chance to learn a little more about crisis communications and how to handle a real disaster.
There are many takes on the concept. As an IT company, you might fear a data breach more than anything else. That’s not the topic today. Instead, consider disasters that affect communities on a more physical scale. While it doesn’t have to be limited to natural disasters, they paint the clearest image. Hurricanes, severe weather, forest fires and the like are the focus today. When these circumstances hit, it can impact a lot of people in a wide range of ways. As an IT manager, the disaster may affect you personally, it might be limited to your clients, or it could be both.
State regulations push plenty of businesses to consider a basic disaster plan, but it is rarely enough — especially for IT. Here’s something you might not know. According to FEMA, companies begin to be at risk of bankruptcy after only nine days without access to information technology. You are more important for disaster preparation and response than you might realize.
Virtually every piece of advice ever given to any business includes some variation of “be prepared.” There’s a reason for this. Anything that you can plan ahead of time will combat indecision and help efficiency, and those are often two of the most important factors in determining how well businesses and individuals can fare in a disaster.
Surely, you have already done some preparation. You likely push off-site backups on your clients. You also should have some level of downtime protocol. This is a great start. You can supplement it substantially by thinking about communication during times of disaster. How will you coordinate messages amongst yourself, your clients and other members of your community? Social media is usually the best for real-time communication (which we can get into more in a minute), but you have to consider what constitutes an email or another method. Letting people know you’re in the path of a hurricane and may suffer some downtime is completely different from responding to the aftermath of a sudden tornado.
That brings us to the most important part of preparation. You have to base it on risk assessment. Businesses in Phoenix don’t face the same dangers as those in Miami. Also, different disasters come with different levels of imminent warning. Know the geography of your clients so you can have a plan for their most likely disaster scenarios.
During the Crisis
While the disaster is unfolding, there are limits to what you can safely do. As an IT provider, your main role is likely to keep channels of communication open and organized. You can help people find safety and relief, and you can coordinate updates of the situation. Social media will probably play a large role here. It’s also important that you help businesses (including your own) to keep people updated as to your status. If you’re ok, people want to know. If you aren’t, people might be able to help you get emergency services. Whatever the situation, the absolute priority during a crisis is safety. It should dictate your every action.
When the storm clears, this is where your efforts may matter the most. As you just read, prompt IT support is vital to helping businesses survive disasters. Ideally, your primary goal at this point is genuine help and support rather than profit. The worst thing a business can do is try to exploit a disaster to make a few dollars. The best thing you can do is lower prices, hand out freebies or otherwise contribute in any reasonable way you can to recover. Beer and soda companies are notorious for delivering free water in response to major disasters. You can try to be the IT version of that. You don’t need to go bankrupt over it, but any help you can reasonably offer will always be appreciated. When the smoke clears, you might find that this attitude is better for your bottom line anyway.
When it comes to live news, social media is the primary resource for most Americans. People hear about disasters on Twitter before they see anything on TV. As an IT company, you’re going to be expected to be on top of your social media game. The first question you have to answer is “When do I turn it off.” It’s a judgment call, but there’s an easy rule of thumb. If you should be evacuating, you can turn off your social media until you are safe.
Otherwise, social media is all about care. You are going to try to help coordinate safety efforts — from evacuation to general advice. You need vet information you share as carefully as possible. Most importantly, you need to watch your wording. Too many good companies have fallen because they were lazy about their language. Too soon jokes can destroy a business model, but even a slip of the tongue is bad. You’ll notice that this article is full of phrases that apply to disasters like “when the smoke clears” and “after the storm.” These are terrible phrases to use in response to a fire or severe weather, respectively. Use your brain and you’ll be fine. Otherwise, the best IT marketing services in the world might not be enough to save you.
Stuart Crawford serves as Creative Director and CEO with Sebring, FL and Fort Erie, ON-based Ulistic, a specialty MSP Marketing firm focused on information technology marketing and business development. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience pertaining to how technology business owners and IT firms can use marketing as a vehicle to obtain success.