The marketing view on Facebook’s mega-outage

On Monday, October 4th social media was quiet. Too quiet, in fact… The cause was not a protest, but a “technical error” that left Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram offline for 6 hours.

As the flurry of reaction GIFs and official explanations dies down, what lessons can marketers learn from the crash itself and what happened afterwards?


What actually happened?

In short, Facebook’s internal systems got disconnected from the internet as a whole.

The initial problem was made worse because Facebook largely relies on internal tools for communication between its teams, and these tools were also knocked out by the error. It’s worth considering what tools your own departments rely on; many remote or hybrid teams lean heavily on WhatsApp to stay in touch.

Specific to marketing, an outage like this underscores the danger of having all your eggs in one basket. Any business that reached customers purely through Facebook or Instagram had 6 hours of no leads coming in, and no content reaching their audience. With 67% of marketers saying that Facebook is their most powerful social channel, due to its wide reach across multiple demographics, we’re talking about a huge impact.

Those who pay for Facebook Ads have been hit particularly hard. Facebook doesn’t share a lot of information about its paying customers, but in the last quarter of 2019 they had 6 million businesses running ads. That’s a 50% increase since 2016, it’s entirely possible the current figure is closing in on 10 million at time of writing.


The fallout

There are also lessons to be learned from how the outage was reported and explained. Facebook’s official statement was highly technical:

“configuration changes on the backbone routers that co-ordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication”

– BBC News;

For most of its users, this means almost nothing. Compare this to how Cloudflare, a firm that provides online infrastructure, explained the problem:

“It was as if someone had “pulled the cables” from their data centres all at once and disconnected them from the Internet.”

– Cloudflare;

Facebook’s explanation is fine if you understand all the structures that underpin the internet. But most of their users are not in this category.

When you are facing your own issues, it is important to explain them in a way that makes sense to affected users. You spend a lot of time in your own systems, so it is easy to forget that your customers are less familiar with them and may well use different terms for elements of it.

In other parts of their statement, Facebook does a better job:

“People and businesses around the world rely on us every day to stay connected. We understand the impact that outages like these have on people’s lives, as well as our responsibility to keep people informed about disruptions to our services.”

Empathetic language like this is critical in the aftermath of an outage or service disruption. Customers understand that no system is perfect, but they still want to feel understood when things go wrong.

What about you?

We’re not here to crow about the fact that the humble email was unaffected by Facebook’s tech woes. However, the fact that Spotler customers can easily spread their outreach across email and multiple social networks in a coordinated way means that they were well-cushioned against the issues causing mayhem in Silicon Valley.

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