The power of the dark site: handling crisis communications


Introduction: In times of crisis…

Vader was hard to understand through that mask. We’re pretty sure he really said ‘dark site’.


As a public company with many eyes on you, it’s good sense to have a plan for when something inevitably goes wrong. When a big crisis emerges, the most important aspect in responding is timing and efficiency. Developing a dark website and having it on standby at all times is crucial when handling a corporate crises. And speaking of crises, is that ominous music we hear? We thought we’d provide you with some appropriate background reading music. Less than a month until Star Wars Episode VII hits the theatres! (ICYMI, this is a Star Wars themed post).

While you listen, read up on the basics of dark websites, why you should create one as a company, and what elements are crucial to include.


What is a dark website?


Think of how you behave as an internet user. If an emergency strikes an organization, where is the first place you turn? Their website. You want to know what’s going on and how the situation is being addressed. From the company side of things, there isn’t time to create a section on your website or an entire new website to address the crisis. That’s when you turn to your dark site: a pre-built website that can be ‘turned on’ as needed during a crisis to manage it efficiently. The point of dark sites is that they are pre-prepared and ready to publish at the click of a button, so the hungry internet audiences can be updated and stay informed. Remember: the key is speed. Like doing the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.


Don’t be caught sitting on your butt in the midst of all the chaos with no clue what to do next.

Why are dark sites important?


1. You control the conversation

Control the situation like Luke controls situations with The Force flowing through him. See? The Star Wars comparisons are endless.

The best way to keep a situation from blowing out of proportion and gathering untruths is to be the main source of updates and information. If you’re the ones constantly correcting and editing your statements, the circulating news will stay factual. Rumours and speculations begin when people have to find their own avenues and sources for updates. Dark sites often dedicate themselves to the single issue at hand, so focus audiences on the crucial information only.


2. You gain trust through transparency 

Behaving as transparently as possible during a crisis translates directly into trust. Remaining cooperative and informing your audiences about what’s going on will help you maintain those relationships with clients, customers, and the general public. When you don’t communicate, it can seem like you’re hiding something.


3. You show you’re taking this seriously

Ignoring the crisis on your company website and going on business-as-usual can send the wrong message to your audience. A dark website gives your audience assurances that you understand the gravity of the situation at hand and that your team is meeting and acting accordingly.


 Are all dark sites the same?

Are Ewoks and Wookies the same? Short answer: no. The way a dark site looks and functions is completely up to the discretion of the company creating it. The site’s functionality can also depend on the severity of the crisis. For example, if the crisis is so severe that normal company operations can’t go forth, a dark website can completely replace the everyday corporate site. This action shows a company-wide dedication to the problem at hand. A more common approach for dark websites is a creating a separate site that operates parallel to your existing website. You would direct all traffic and questions about the crisis to your dark site, but others can still browse your normal website.

Whatever you choose, the most important thing to remember is to lead people with your homepage, especially if you’re going with the two separate websites route. It’s your job to make it extremely clear on your homepage that the company aware of the situation and that all available information is available on your dark website. Make sure links back and forth are prominently displayed.


What content do I include in a dark site?

Be like Leia, and make sure everyone on both sides of the crisis knows the facts. Look at her laying out that attack strategy. Get it.

1. Initial opening statement about the crisis

Give a brief description of what’s happening. Don’t assume that people landing on your dark website already know about the situation or your company’s background. A statement from the CEO or a board member may also work well here.

2. Steps being taken by company

Address the basic plan that you’ll be sticking to in the coming days, and lay out instructions to both the public and everyone affected about what they should expect to see from you next.

3. Contact information for media and/or the public

Have multiple points of contact where the media and journalists can go versus where the general public can go to help, find out more information, or donate.

4. Cross-linking platforms

Make sure it’s a breeze for people to go back and forth between your dark site, your regular website if it’s functioning, social media platforms, and any press or news releases.

5.  Access to real-time updates

Give information on how people can receive minute-by-minute updates if they choose. If you’re updating regularly through social media, like Twitter, include an embedded Twitter timeline or tell audiences to follow you. If you’re sending email/text message updates, provide info for where they can sign up.


Just remember to be prepared! The point of a dark site is that you can launch it into space at the drop of a hat. If you’re scrambling to find something to post, you’re already behind. As Obi Wan Kenobi, Jedi master, says, “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck”.

May the force be with you!

Thanks for letting us be punny this week, and thanks to this awesome site for the Star Wars cinema graphs.


Marika Hirsch
Marika Hirsch

As Blender’s Content Manager (aka ‘Resident Wordsmith’) Marika enjoys bringing readers the latest and greatest in both digital trends and IR tips. Follow along on Twitter: