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Tens of thousands of people react on social networks when Gmail is slow, Amazon trips, there’s a Facebook issue, or Foursquare’s API crashes.

Every time there is a major outage, security issue, or malfunction, there is also a general pattern of raised anxiety, doubts, and questioning of services in the cloud.

WatchMouse #Fail

This is an immediate consequence of web apps playing an essential part of our lives. Web apps are more reliable than ever before, but the public outcry is more extensive — especially when typing “#FAIL” on Twitter takes only a second.

Companies that rely on Web apps should have the following channels in place well before a crisis strikes:

  • A status page hosted independently from the main website. Use an easy, predictable name: status.company-or-brand.com.
  • A Twitter account to post quick updates. Use @company-or-brand here as well.

This first level of transparency makes it easy for people to get informed and immediately results in lower anxiety levels. This in turn, helps to stamp out rogue stories in times of crisis and reduces the load on the company’s customer service contact center.

Next, when an outage or crisis starts unfolding, companies should:

  • Admit failure as soon as possible
  • Sound human
  • Explain who and what is affected
  • Maintain a detailed outage timeline
  • Share lessons learned afterwards

Companies that are transparent about service issues gain kudos and trust. When they broadcast information quickly, their message can be relayed across social networks consistently, instead of leaving it up to the public or media to guess. Finally, it saves the company’s helpdesk and call center serious money.

The next time there’s an issue with your favorite application, check its status page and see if there is up-to-date information before you type “#fail”.

Stan P. van de Burgt is CEO and co-founder of WatchMouse, a company that monitors websites and services 24×7 from over 50 locations worldwide and delivers detailed insight about their performance, uptime, and functionality. Inspired by the dashboards of Amazon and Google, WatchMouse introduced Public Status Pages (PSP) in early 2010. Companies like Twitter, Mozilla, WordPress, and many more use this product to be even more transparent to their customers, users and developers. Note: For a more detailed analysis of the psychology of transparency in times of crisis, see this excellent article.

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