Is Your Subscription Site Prepared for Outages and Other Disasters?

Digital technology, doomsday prophecies, and hyperbole seem to go hand-in-hand, especially on slow news days. While it’s unlikely the Internet will ever fail completely,

Digital technology, doomsday prophecies, and hyperbole seem to go hand-in-hand, especially on slow news days. While it’s unlikely the Internet will ever fail completely, the recent DNSChanger malware attack is a good opportunity to review your subscription or membership site’s emergency preparedness. After all, crashing is bad for for free sites, but it can be exponentially more damaging for paid sites, leading to cancellations and lost revenue.If you have a temporary outage due to malware, a vicious hack, server outage, or an electrical failure of some sort, here are some standard operating procedures you should have in place to deal:

  • Make sure you have an active Twitter/FB account where people can get updates. And send a formal email (if you’re on a different system) to keep paying subscribers and free users informed. Not saying anything will just make the problem worse.
  • Have pre-written copy and, if possible, an HTML page ready that can be matched to specific circumstances. It should also state how long you expect to take to be back up.
  • Don’t spread your stress with your members. Humor helps.

Of course, your preparation shouldn’t just be after the problem starts, especially when it comes to hacks. Start preparing now by installing forensic security assessment software and by addressing possible weaknesses. Also, make sure separate departments, especially IT, legal and corporate communications, know who is responsible for handling what during an outage or breach. Also know the law — each state has different rules concerning what constitutes “personally identifiable information.”If server crashes happen frequently, you should re-evaluate your system and consider switching. When evaluating hosting services, consider the following:

  • Your host should back-up your content every night on a second server located in a separate location than your main server. The reason you want them in two geographically distinct locations is so that if a natural disaster, like a hurricane or snowstorm, hits one server, the other should be unaffected.
  • Your host should refund your money for anytime you’re down. As of now, only the very premium hosting services, like Rackspace, do this, but the more people ask, the more likely hosting service will consider offering this benefit.
  • Avoid clouds, especially if you have a robust, data-heavy site (or at least, know the risks). They don’t offer the same protection or customer support as normal hosting services.

If you’re a news site, you should also be prepared for government take-downs in other countries, like Iran and China. While there’s not much you can do about this, you should be prepared to reach out to your subscribers via other media — like email, SMS, or Twitter — to alert them to the problem (you may also want to continue providing news through these media, but be careful and consult your legal department).Lastly, you should have a financial plan in place to determine if, when, and how much money you’re willing to refund if a subscriber can’t access your content — or if you’ll compensate in other ways, like a free month’s subscription. While the crash is not your fault and it’s not theirs, it’s also not fair to take money for a service a customer can’t access and that you can no longer provide.

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