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December 8th, 2010

Downtime Planning

A week or so ago there was another instance of a Facebook page being overwhelmed by social issue protesters leaving messages calling out the company for what it felt was unethical behavior. In this case it was the retailer DKNY being targeted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The analysis of that situation mostly included harsh reminders that a crisis plan needs to be in place, just in case you weren’t paying attention the first 7,835 times someone used social media to criticize a company and everyone rushed to label it the worst customer relations crisis ever.

The story I’m more interested in, though, is the downtime experienced by Tumblr recently. There’s nothing inherently unusual about the story – Twitter, Facebook, Posterous and just about every other web-based service will have occasional problems that limit access by many if not all users.

This isn’t another warning about how unless you own the server your information exists on you have little to no control over its fate (though that’s certainly true). Using Twitter, Tumblr or whatever else as part of an online communications strategy can make a ton of sense for particular programs.

But if those online, non-owned tools are part of the communications publishing mix then there needs to be a downtime plan.

In most cases having a backup publishing outlet isn’t going to do much good. If Twitter is down you can’t exactly alert your followers there to head on over to Facebook to stay in touch.

What you can do, though, is work everyday (while everything is functioning) to make sure the audience on one platform is aware of whatever other outlets you’re publishing to, making the case for why they should tune in there in addition to where they’re currently connected with you. If they’ve been regularly told on Facebook that you have a Tumblr account where they can continue to get updates many of those in the audience will do so.

That then means having a plan on what to do with those other outlets when one goes down, including using it for updates that keep people informed on what’s happening with the platform that’s down and continuing to make the value proposition as to why they should connect with you at multiple points.

In my experience it’s also incredibly important to continue writing even while one platform is down. Just because you can’t complete the circle and publish at that time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be writing. So much of successful publishing is just pure habit and if any impediments come up it’s easy to get out of that habit. So continue writing in a Word document or anything else and publish them whenever you can. Don’t break the routine.

As long as there are web-based publishing platforms that aren’t owned by the publisher – whether that publisher is a business or an individual – there will be issues with downtime. But there are ways to work around that problem that are based on planning before that downtime happens, just like the plans that should be in place before a crisis occurs.

And just because I need to point this out: While Feedburner may have occasional counting problems and some publishers do something to break their feeds, RSS is not dead and never goes down. So as long as that’s one of the core components of the publishing mix there’s always a way to distribute content.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

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