On Monday 4th October 2021, the unthinkable happened.
No, there wasn’t a tsunami, earthquake, or any other natural disaster.
No, parliament wasn’t overrun by Daleks with extermination on their minds.
Facebook went down.
Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform, along with WhatsApp and Instagram, suffered outages and significant internal issues for around six hours, causing a butterfly effect for businesses small and large across the globe.
It wasn’t just businesses either – suddenly people couldn’t reach out to their families and friends. Your mother couldn’t video-call you and ask for help with the broken boiler. Your friend who just gave birth couldn’t send a photo of her new-born to her parents. You couldn’t find that post you saw the night before about Harry Kane’s potential transfer to Manchester City.
Millions of inconveniences, major and minor, resulted from the Great Facebook Outage of Winter ’21. What does that tell us?
We rely too much on the systems we use.
Too many eggs, not enough baskets
Some businesses operate solely on Facebook or Instagram, and for those five or six hours, they were stuck.
Organisations that use a single platform to operate need to have a contingency plan for when those services inevitably crash.
To all the business leaders who sell or market their products on Facebook – what did you do on Monday 4th October? What have you learnt from it?
Perhaps it’s time to make sure you have a website for your business as well as a Facebook page. Maybe offer an incentive for potential customers to sign up to an emailing list. Or even adjust your monthly sales targets to account for any digital platform issues.
If your product is selling well on these platforms, you should continue to use them. But make sure you’re prepared for when the next outage occurs.
What the experts say
Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Kentik, a network monitoring firm, said, “I don’t know if I’ve seen an outage like this before from a major internet firm.” For a lot of people, he told CNN, “Facebook is the internet to them.”
Brooke Erin Duffy, Professor of Communications at Cornell University, agreed: “Today’s outage brought our reliance on Facebook — and its properties like WhatsApp and Instagram — into sharp relief… The abruptness of today’s outage highlights the staggering level of precarity that structures our increasingly digitally mediated work economy.”
Some experts have suggested the outage could be related to the recent whistle-blowing by Frances Haugen, former Product Manager for Facebook (see video below), but that this would be unlikely.
Meanwhile, other social media platforms got a huge increase in engagement and traffic. Major businesses took to Twitter to express their feelings on the outage:
Hi and happy Monday 😵💫
— Instagram (@instagram) October 4, 2021
How are you doing, Instagram social media manager?
— Reddit (@Reddit) October 4, 2021
According to business website Fortune, these six hours cost Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg an estimated £4.4bn at one point, as shares plunged.
He publicly apologised to those affected, saying, “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today — I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”
If Zuckerberg knew the effect this would have, one would think he would have a plan in place for an event such as this – it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. In 2019, a disruption left Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram inaccessible for over 14 hours.
For a business as huge as Facebook, where people’s livelihoods rely on the service they provide, there should be no room for errors like this. So, ask yourself – if the way you sell your product or service fell apart tomorrow, how would you respond?
As a business leader, contingency plans are completely necessary when you rely on external digital platforms.
Make sure outages like this don’t impact your own organisation. Don’t be reactive – be proactive.
Written by John Davis – Marketing Executive