Microsites: the whys and wherefores

Microsites are an important tool, but they are often overused
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By Tom Adams

Microsites are an increasingly discussed tool as a means of communication during a crisis. Microsites are an important tool, but they are often overused. So, here’s a look at when and how you might deploy a microsite to assist in your communications response to an incident – and when you might decide to stick with your existing presence.

What is a microsite?

In crisis communications, microsites are single issue websites that are established, usually for a short period of time, to address a particular incident or issue.

They usually sit separately to any existing website that your company or brand might maintain otherwise – often under a different domain name completely.

What are the advantages of a microsite?

Microsites provide numerous advantages during a media crisis:

  • Provide a focal point for complex communications with multiple parties. In an incident with multiple parties wishing to deliver unified communication, a microsite can act as a type of joint information centre that allows interested parties to access all the relevant information at once in the same place.
  • A website for companies without one. If your organisation doesn’t maintain a permanent website or online presence then a microsite can provide a useful, cheap solution to getting information out online without having to establish a full website.
  • Put the key information upfront to ensure the news does not get lost on hard to find back pages, as it can on some large websites.
  • Cope with high traffic volumes. Large incidents can attract huge amounts of traffic as people clamour for news. Microsites can take the pressure off your company’s website, making sure that regular and valued stakeholders like customers and suppliers, can still access the information contained on your website.
  • Tailor search engine optimisation keywords and tags for the incident to which you are responding. This allows people to easily find your releases about a particular incident, even if they are unsure what they should be searching for!
  • A fully customisable platform outside the constraints of any existing websites. Different elements like enquiry forms, downloadable attachments and corporate branding can be added and disabled at will by your incident response team without disrupting affect other aspects of your website.

What are the drawbacks of a microsite?

However, like all tools, microsites also have numerous drawbacks that you should consider in a crisis:

  • Lack of context. Incident information hosted on a company’s normal page sits alongside other information about the company’s safety track record, awards, plans, mission statements, etc. all of which give a full picture of the company involved. A microsite focuses only on the incident without placing it in the context of your company’s exceptional operations.
  • Can be confusing. For instance, if you design a microsite matching closely to an existing company website, accidental or frequent visitors can become frustrated when they cannot find what they need.
  • Does not provide a historical archive. After the incident is concluded microsites are taken offline. The content on them can be archived on your organisations main page or otherwise (if appropriate), but any links that have been used will no longer function and this can create problems if your organisation is being vetted or any other time a historical check is required.
  • Require promotion to be effective – signposting on social media or highlighting in press releases are some examples. Deploying a microsite effectively means deciding to actively “promote” the incident, which is wise for an incident that is already attracting wide attention but might not otherwise be advisable. Therefore, you should consider the timing of deploying any microsite very carefully.

Microsites can be great tools for communicating in a crisis, particularly when there are multiple parties wanting to communicate, an incident is already attracting high volumes of attention or if your current online presence is not up to the task. However, they’re not advisable to deploy in every instance particularly in minor incidents or where company information and operational contexts are central to your messaging strategy.

Navigate Response can help you launch your own microsite during an incident. We’ll also be holding a webinar on 1 June to discuss using a microsite in more detail, and you can sign up for the event here.

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