8 Important Lessons Learned from the Facebook Outage
The day of the famous Facebook outage is a day we'll always remember.
At first it seemed like March 13th 2019 started like any other Wednesday.
We all went through our morning rituals -- shower, coffee, breakfast, check social media, etc. -- only to realize that there was in fact a Facebook outage. Then we tried Instagram -- same problem. We then tried WhatsApp and again, same issue.
While this was the morning routine for some parts of the world, others were on lunch breaks, passing time in waiting rooms, researching their next online purchase, or worse, in the midst of planned, budgeted, live social media campaigns.
A cause for serious concern.
Each user was greeted with a message of, "Sorry, something went wrong. We're working on getting this fixed as fast as we can," which offered little comfort. Many of us thought it was a moment that would soon pass, but it didn’t take long to realize that Facebook officially had a problem that they were unable to fix for the moment. Consequently, this became a shared problem by billions throughout the world due to the monopolistic nature of these three social platforms.
So, what did we learn from this recent case study of a social media juggernaut temporarily turning off the lights for us all?
Let’s take a look at eight lessons which came out of the experience.
Lesson 1: Facebook, Instagram and Messenger CAN Actually Crash
Many of us initially blamed our phones, tablets and computers, building new cases to appeal for an upgrade to the latest devices. However, it didn’t take long to realize that these three social media giants were officially offline. Something that many of us would’ve found hard to believe because, well, that sort of thing just doesn’t happen to Facebook does it?
As we saw on the day itself -- yes it does.
Lesson 2: It Wasn’t A Hack -- Or Was It?
Facebook (ironically) took to Twitter to release a formal statement to confirm there was indeed an issue, and that they were fixing it. What was interesting about the tweet was the specific reassurance that the Facebook outage was not related to a DDoS attack -- also known as a Distributed Denial-of-Service attack where hackers send large volumes of fake traffic to overwhelm websites, causing them to shut down or crash. Facebook was extremely quick to deny any rumors of hacking or foul play in Wednesday’s outage, given the height of concern surrounding its privacy and security in recent months.
In the end, it was a simple server issue which led to the outage. While many were hypothesising about the potential risk of a security breach to personal data, the reality was not as serious. Facebook was again quick to release a statement on its socials, with an apology to its followers, shutting down the rumors. However, the damage was in fact already done.
Lesson 3: It Will Probably Happen Again
Although the March 2019 incident was officially the longest ever recorded Facebook outage, it wasn’t a first for the social media giant, nor is it likely to be its last. In September 2018, it was revealed that Facebook suffered an attack from an unknown hacker who compromised 50 million user accounts by using three separate bugs. Unfortunately, the online world we live in today is highly susceptible to hackers and this is becoming a part of everyday life online. A lesser known fact is that the WordPress CMS platform -- on which 58.55 percent of websites are built -- is the most hacked platform on the world wide web, with its Wordfence widget reporting 90,000 cyber attacks every minute.
So does this mean we can’t trust Facebook anymore?
It’s a question that has been asked many times over. As far as websites and platforms go, Facebook gets a bad name given its overwhelming size and endless publicity. When you look into the framework and security of its framework, it is very much a safe and secure family of apps with specific guidelines and policies constantly being updated to ensure user privacy.
A quick listen to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent new vision to become “...a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform” reveals his core targets to focus on encryption, permanence, safety and interoperability to ensure user conversations are kept secure. While the intention and planning is there from Facebook and the messages from ‘Zuck’ can be taken as reassuring, there is always a risk of hacking due to the digital world we live in today. Unfortunately for all users of these social media platforms, when a hack occurs, it can be “a catastrophe” as summarized by cryptography expert Matt Blaze in a tweet following September’s Facebook hack.
Lesson 4: When One Goes, Others May Follow
While a lot of businesses are on multiple social media platforms to reach different markets, four of the primary platforms are contained within the Facebook family of apps. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 now establishes a shared security risk, alongside its ever popular Facebook Messenger, which is growing increasingly popular month-on-month.
If your social media marketing strategy centrally utilizes these platforms, you may want to reconsider some strategies to reduce risk in this space. Of course, this is easier said than done. However, after the recent Facebook outage, businesses are now starting to address these concerns within their strategy meetings.
Lesson 5: We Rely Too Heavily On These Platforms
Not all of us are using these social media platforms, however at least one of them features centrally in our social media strategy, and indeed our marketing strategy. Some businesses place a great deal of trust and reliance in these networks to reach buyers, to communicate with teams and to share information to large groups of individuals with a common purpose.
After all, wasn't that the initial goal and purpose of social media in the first place?
But, what happens when it all breaks? How long can we survive with a simple outage while new servers are configured? What is the opportunity cost of lost business for every minute, hour or day that these platforms are down?
Facebook was quick to address their concerns for the overall impact, “including the possibility of refunds for advertisers,” reflected in this article from Bloomberg. This was indeed music to the ears of certain advertisers who were severely impacted on the day.
We’re pretty sure Facebook can afford it too, considering the social giant is projecting $189 million per day in revenue during 2019.
One such advertiser, Jason Wong, will be watching this space with sound interest. Wong’s company, Wonghaus Ventures, work closely with influencers to push products and brands in the social space. On the day of the outage, the media company was set to launch a new product suite of false eyelashes across both Facebook and Instagram. Needless to say -- it didn’t go well. The company estimated a loss of roughly $10,000 in revenue due to its projected daily earnings from several of its products, all of which are transacted entirely online.
Lesson 6: Outages Affect More Than Just Sales
It’s not just transactions which suffer from outages -- these social media platforms are relied upon heavily as communication platforms. As an example, much of Jason Wong’s work is with social media influencers, meaning less formal contracts, and more DM (direct message) agreements between the influencer and company. When the platform breaks, communication stops. Then what happens? Confusion, lost deals, lost trust and soured business relationships.
How do we then respond? Heaven forbid we may need to pick up a phone…
Rebecca Brooker, a leading designer at Media Monks relies heavily on using these social platforms for communication in support of emails. Brooker voiced her frustrations on the day in a recent interview with the BBC, commenting, "Facebook for personal use is fine -- but what happens when we rely on large companies such as this to provide business services?" She continued, "I'm trying to communicate with my team in New York. Facebook Workplace is our only channel for [communication] with the exception of email."
Brooker also took to Twitter to add an insightful reflection on her personal account:
Lesson 7: A Facebook-Like Outage Can Also Happen To Your Business
There isn’t a business out there who hasn’t gone through the challenge of updating their servers -- like Facebook -- only to be faced with teething issues. Hey, it happens. Something as simple as switching servers, or rolling a website live or switching to a new CRM all attract technical challenges which pose a risk to trading. Stepping out of social media for one moment, outages are something that can drastically affect your website’s quality score. If you are looking to rank highly in the Google search space, and/or you’re running active Google Ads, you need to avoid any outages or downtime where your website is offline, as this will be penalized by Google.
For every minute -- even second -- your site is down, you are damaging your website's quality score.
Quality score is a vital statistic which Google uses to determine the level of relevance of your website. Whenever your site is down, this has a knock-on effect with your ranking and average position, as well as spilling over to affect additional factors such as your average cost-per-click for Google Ads. Not to mention the potential for lost business for all those customers who visit your website, only to be met with a 404 error page stating the URL is no longer valid.
It can become a very costly exercise, so it pays to always have a back-up plan when rolling any new software, server or system live. It is often recommended to perform these changes after hours when minimal traffic occurs to your website or trading, as this will minimize the potential affects if things don’t go to plan. If you can test things on a test or development server, this is also a useful back-up plan.
Lesson 8: It’s Time To Adjust Your Marketing Strategy
While social media marketing is often a central part of modern-day marketing strategies, it is time to reconsider things in light of recent events. A majority of businesses who are active in the social media marketing space are using Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger in some way. That’s a fact and there’s no real way around it. Unfortunately, no ‘Plan B’ exists for switching to other platforms which provide as much leverage and influence as these social giants.
Even if there was, are those platforms any safer from outages?
Let’s pause for a moment and step back to remember that social media wasn’t always available. Businesses used to do just fine without thousands of followers engaging with their posts and clicking on promoted adverts. Email marketing is still a strong source of communication with customers. Google Ads are a proven strategy to provide better cost-per-click return on investment (ROI) for ad spend in a digital sense. When these techniques are supported with strategic search engine optimization (SEO) you can run a strong online presence without as much reliance on social media marketing.
Then there’s mass media, word of mouth advertising and print, all of which aren’t dead. In a recent article from Mumbrella, the United Kingdom and Australian markets both reported sizable increases in print book revenue and print sales between 2 - 2.5 percent over the last six years, with the US reporting an increase of $820 million in publisher-reported revenue since 2013.
A recent example is Buzzfeed’s latest stunt in New York where the popular online publisher released 20,000 copies of a one-time only printed newspaper. The company proved that print was in fact alive and well, handing out newspapers to passing foot traffic in popular destinations including Union Square, Penn Station and Herald Square. The media giant was described as pivoting to print as it released a tweet and video showcasing the day’s events, with a simple message of “We printed out the Internet.”
In a recent article entitled Your Business Doesn’t Need Social Media to Grow, the author, Sarthak Sharma (Co-Founder of Naturehub) lists a series of additional channels available to marketers. In the blog, Sharma reveals his take on how social media has trapped businesses into a position of heavy reliance thanks to regular algorithm updates which limit the reach and impact for social media advertisers. It’s a refreshing take on things and provides reassurance that a back-up plan is worth considering after Facebook’s recent headlines.
It's Been an Interesting Reality Check
While you don’t have to rush to go and deactivate your social media platforms, this latest Facebook outage has given businesses a valuable reality check which could prove pivotal for their sustainability. After seeing examples of businesses like Facebook, Google and even Amazon experiencing periodical outages which have drastically affected business revenue, the simple fact is, it can happen to any business who is trading online, no matter how established. There is no need to go back to the drawing board -- but starting with a simple review of your current marketing strategy would be a useful starting point.
After all, this may have been the reality check we all needed.