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:

  1. Which products are affected?
  2. How badly is the usage affected?
  3. How many customers are affected?
  4. How noticeable is the impact?
  5. 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#

Initial communication:#

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.

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:


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:

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.

Long Incidents#

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.


Your final communication should be posted when full recovery of the incident has been confirmed by the Incident Commander. This update should include:

Once this is posted, continue to follow the steps for After an Incident and the Postmortem Process.

Quick Reference#

Quick reference rubric for external communications spanning from initial investigation communication to resolution.