Did your productivity at work or at home decrease all of a sudden on Monday, Sept. 10?
Don’t worry. As you probably know by now, you weren't alone.
Thousands of Web sites hosted by Internet service provider GoDaddy.com went down for about six hours in what was initially thought to be the work of a sophisticated hacker. GoDaddy would later reveal that the outage was not caused by the work of a hacker, but due to a series of internal network attacks that corroded router data tables.
Of the nearly five million sites that GoDaddy hosts, where was the outage felt the most? Small businesses that rely on the provider for its products and services.
Kenny Borg runs Decade Productions, a custom apparel manufacturer based in Long Beach, Calif. specializing in screen printing and embroidery for a wide range of clients including Universities, businesses, clothing brands and many other groups. A staff of seven employees help run three subsidiary companies—The Social Life , Dog Prints and Decade Screen Printing. Decade Productions was one of the Web sites that went down during the GoDaddy outage.
In the following Q&A, Borg discusses how the outage affected his business and what PR tactics to use when faced with an expected crisis.
PR News: For starters, explain the impact GoDaddy’s outage had on your business?
Kenny Borg: All of our companies completely run on two things—emails and our Web sites—both of which are hosted with GoDaddy and were down from approximately 10:30 am until around 3 pm PST—our primary business hours. Employees in our stores use iPads to actually take down customer order information through our Web site, automatically generating emails to the operate personnel within our company.
The largest and most unfortunate impact was the potential loss of thousands of dollars in revenue that is generated from the order inquiries we get through our Web sites each day.
PR News: From a PR perspective, how did your business handle the outage? How did you inform your consumers as to what was going on?
Borg: The down time resulted in some old school office work. Pens and paper and what not. I had almost forgotten what it's like. We did alert our customers to the issue via our Gmail and other alternative e-mail addresses. We were able to quickly adjust and overcome those obstacles to complete the work day.
For all customers we are in current communication with, we continued communication via our team's personal or alternative e-mail accounts. Though unprofessional, it allowed us to maintain a somewhat steady flow of communication throughout the day.
We were hoping that when our GoDaddy e-mail accounts went back online, that we would get an influx of all the e-mails our customers had been trying to send us all day.
After contacting many of our customers, we quickly learned that was not the case, and that any e-mails sent to us during the down time never came in at all. We've had a difficult time recovering from not receiving customer e-mails during that time. Most of our Tuesday was spent sorting out whose e-mails we didn't receive, and making sure we got back to everybody as quickly as possible.
PR News: How important is the use of social media in a PR crisis, especially for a small business?
Borg: The importance of social media in a PR crisis for small business varies depending on the type of business and its customer-base. Fortunately for small businesses, a PR crisis might not affect us as severely as it would a larger company. Smaller companies that aren't always in the spotlight sometimes have a little more room for recovery. For some of the larger companies in our industry, one day of Web site downage could result in thousands of dollars in lost sales. Then again, those companies probably aren't using GoDaddy to host. Speaking for our company specifically—with our loyal customer base, and a regular flow of order inquiries through our sites resuming, we were not be greatly affected by any lost potential revenues.
PR News: A lot of small businesses operate of independent servers. Has this situation forced you to look at a contingency plan for consumers who come to view your products online?
Borg: We actually rely more on social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest (@wearetsl) to get our products in front of the eyes of our customers, so our customers were still able to view and share our products as usual. Unfortunately, we often have days that we receive more e-mails and messages through our social media platforms than through our Web site, so we missed out on that as well.
The situation definitely opened our eyes to the risk we face right now. When we first started the company, we were happy just to have a simple functional Web site. Things have progressed smoothly ever since, and until now, we definitely took our web security for granted.
We've already been contacted by a number of other companies offering hosting and other services. It is now a priority to explore every possibly alternative for the services GoDaddy currently provides us.
PR News: This negative PR for GoDaddy has ended up giving you positive PR for your business. How can small businesses take advantage of unexpected press?
Borg: Yes, the GoDaddy outage was a blessing and a curse in many ways. Our local communities in Long Beach and in Fresno were thrilled to see us in the news, as were we of course. As you can see though, it took me a whole day to get back to you. The outage definitely set us behind, and as a small business owner, I had to make the decision to spend all of my time responding to customers instead of taking email or phone interviews that could potentially get published.
PR News: Based on this experience, what PR tips can you provide other small business when an unexpected crisis like this happens?
Borg: Find a way to take advantage of it. Share an interesting take on trending events as it relates to your business, and in a way that your customers can relate to. I believe that meaningful content goes a long way—whether it's stirring the pot on a current conversation, or putting out the fire for a mess you created, good can be found in every situation. And sometimes it's ok to be infamous as long as your business doesn't take too much of a hit. Your company should always be defined in a way that your customers can identify with.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson