Crisis Lessons from This Morning’s Broken Internet

There were many strong reactions this morning (June 8) as media companies, international government agencies and e-commerce sites worldwide were taken offline. A glitch at Fastly, a provider of content-delivery services, shows the online infrastructure remains vulnerable. While the outage was brief, reactions to it will linger and provide lessons for crisis communicators.

While reasons for the glitch remain unclear, the team at Fastly reacted quickly to reassure those impacted. It alerted customers and regularly posted updates as it sought a solution.

Interruptions in the delivery of information, and, more importantly, disruptions to internet commerce are tremendously expensive. In a crisis, there is little patience. Stakeholders demand immediate answers. Under extreme pressure, communicators must offer comfort, even when there are many unknowns.

When a crisis occurs often is important. Good and bad news on this front. This morning's internet breakdown happened so early, many missed it. On the other hand, it led the early-morning news programs. More than that, combined with recent ransomware attacks and data breaches, it's heaped additional skepticism on data security and the reliability of online services.

Prepare for Quick, Clear Communication

Therefore, service providers especially must prepare. Can you communicate quickly and efficiently when things go wrong? Companies must have a crisis plan or playbook that establishes clear roles, responsibilities, protocol and messaging. Without a clear plan, chaos will result.

When huge outages strike the internet, the first reaction of many is panic and anxiety.

Fear of the unknown can cause people to make foolish and ill-informed decisions. Without assurances that Fastly was addressing issues– including regular updates on social media–the situation could have been much worse. In the absence of information, our worst fears and/or someone else's narrative will fill in the blanks. Therefore, regularly communicating during a crisis is critical. Reassure audiences that there is a plan and the situation is under control.

The emotional reaction of having something you rely on taken away hits hard. While some will dismiss the delay of making that purchase on Amazon or reading a Reddit post as inconsequential, the emotional costs are real and the economic costs to Fastly customers are huge.

Panic Erupts Quickly

While today's outage only lasted an hour, it reminds us how quickly global panic can erupt when communicators are caught flat-footed. Infrastructure failures, cyberattacks, or both, surly will continue. No matter how fortified, infrastructure has vulnerabilities. However, communicating clearly and frequently will build confidence moving forward.

Worldwide headlines were generated in a matter of moments. This emphasizes the importance of planning and preparation. Companies must simultaneously address any physical issues and communicate clearly to stakeholders.

Now that things are back online, Fastly's work includes communicating why and how it happened as well as what it will do to prevent it from recurring.

Fastly surely will update its crisis plan based on lessons from this episode. Leadership at other companies should consider the same.

Dan Rene is a managing director at kglobal