I read a good post by VentureBeat yesterday on the “deadly” bug in the latest WordPress plugin. Basically, their new live blogging tool was not tested against older versions of the platform, which resulted in entire blog posts being deleted, among other issues. Not good.
What interested me in this story was not WordPress’ lack of regression testing (that’s rather obvious), but the way they handled the handled the bug in the public spotlight. I’ve long said there should be a handbook on how to handle a software bug that’s getting bad press. I haven’t found one yet, but if one existed, it would probably include these tips:
- Don’t deny: Remember, the cover-up is always worse than the crime. The dumbest thing you could do when a high-profile bug rears its head is to deny its existence. It’s dishonest for one, and you’re basically calling all affecting users liars or idiots. WordPress handled this perfectly, writing on Twitter: “Looks like the liveblog plugin has been made backwards compatible for 3.4.1 on github and the push will be available here on WordPress soon.” Simple, honest and straightforward.
- Respond quickly, publicly: When a high-profile bug hits the headlines, it’s a good idea to get ahead of it and control the conversation. Don’t keep users (or prospective users) in the dark. Make sure you take your message to your social media channels, your blog and your website.
- Show that you understand the problem: In order to show your users that you understand the problem, make sure that you actually do. If you can’t determine the causes of the bug in a timely manner, let your users know you are investigating the issue. When you figure it out, make sure you communicate the problem clearly and accurately. In the case of WordPress, they did this in a 140 character Tweet. Other issues will require a bit more explanation, so be prepared to present your findings.
- Keep lines of communication open: WordPress was actively engaging users in their online support forums. This gave them the ability to learn more about the issues firsthand, but it also served as a valuable resource for users hoping to learn more about the bug.
- Apologize: If your bug made tech headlines, then it probably made life a lot more difficult for your users. Make sure you take responsibility, apologize, and thank them for their future support.
- Don’t let it happen again: Sit down with your team and discuss the chain of events that led to the bug’s release. Don’t let it turn into a blame session, but make sure you document the steps that need to be taken so it doesn’t happen again.
What tips do you have for dealing with high-profile bugs? Let us know in the comment section.
P.S. – On the flip side, you might also enjoy our old post on When To Keep Your Software Bugs a Secret.