External Communication Guidelines
Information on how to manage external communications during an incident. See our role descriptions for information about who is responsible for external communications.
When to communicate publicly#
Before you decide to communicate an incident, it’s important to have an agreed-upon set of criteria for when a major incident is communicated. False alarms and short-lived issues can sometimes kick off incident calls, so knowing when communication is appropriate will help your customers avoid widespread panic. This can be tied to your organization’s definition of what an incident is, and/or your severity levels.
You might consider the following criteria as well:
- Which products are affected?
- How badly is the usage affected?
- How many customers are affected?
- How noticeable is the impact?
- Is the impact something a customer may want to have contingencies for?
We also recommend coming up with a set of templates for different stages of an incident, including options for the communications below as well as special situations (long-running incidents, small or limited customer impact, incidents opened with immediate resolution, etc.)
How to communicate#
The first communication should indicate that an incident is under investigation. The goal here is to avoid a customer experiencing symptoms of the incident, checking status pages or Twitter accounts, and not seeing awareness of the issue from the business.
- Decision and posting of initial communication happens within 5 minutes of kicking off the incident call.
- These messages should be entirely templated for ease of action.
- These messages can be minimal in revealing scope which might not be known yet, but should indicate that scope will be coming soon.
Second communication: Initial Scoping of Impact#
This is a message that should be delivered within 5 minutes of the first communication, once some scope of impact is known. This post should outline:
- Customer impact
- An update of which components and/or functionality are impacted
- Which regions are affected.
Depending on the length of the incident, periodic updates will be necessary. These updates should be delivered at least every 20 minutes from the scoping update during the first two hours of an incident. After two hours, you may choose to update with reduced frequency and shift to a long incident communication model (see below). Regardless of expected frequency, when the degree of impact has meaningfully changed, updates should be posted. These updates should:
- Indicate any changes to impact and/or scope
- Indicate if we believe we have shifted into recovery and/or mitigation steps.
- Provide an expectation of when the next update will be posted.
Customers with special contracts around their Customer Support or Customer Success, such as a customer on a Premium Support plan, should also receive communication of impact delivered individually, whether through a Customer Liaison or their account team.
Incidents longer than two hours should be considered a long incident, and have different communication procedures as a result. When we know an incident will be extended, customer expectations have to be set appropriately, and customer notification fatigue due to content-less updates should be avoided. When in doubt, notify at the frequency which keeps updates meaningful.
- Don’t determine this within the first hour of an incident.
- For incidents where we know a long running recovery, indicate this in an update when known.
- If planning to reduce update frequency, continue to provide expectations of when the next update will be posted.
Your final communication should be posted when full recovery of the incident has been confirmed by the Incident Commander. This update should include:
- Confirmation of full recovery
- Clear indication of any data loss or lingering corruption.
- If there are no lingering impacts, clearly note this in the update.
Once this is posted, continue to follow the steps for After an Incident and the Postmortem Process.