Marketing Lessons Learned From the Facebook Outage

Silhouette of Mark Zuckerberg against the backdrop of Facebook logo.


Facebook’s outage last week demonstrates a harsh reality to marketers, they often run campaigns on “rented land” they can’t control.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of The Tilt, shared those thoughts with CMSWire the day after Facebook and associated platforms went down October 4th for six hours, paralyzing endless streams of life updates and selfies in the newsfeed and leaving Facebook-dependent marketers scrambling for their various backup plans. 

“The Facebook situation reminds marketers and business owners that, while using a service like FB is fine, you can’t control it, don’t own it, can’t impact policies, and when it goes down and you are attached to it, you go down with it,” said Pulizzi.

Six Hours and No Newsfeed, Oh My!

Here’s the skinny on the outage, according to Facebook’s engineering team:

  • Configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between Facebook’s data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. “This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate,” engineers wrote, “bringing our services to a halt.”
  • The outage included no malicious activity. There is also no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime.
  • The outage, extending to all company apps, lasted from about 12:30 p.m. to around 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, Oct. 4, according to Down Detector.

Facebook doesn’t need bad press. It’s already under a congressional microscope for suspected algorithms that contribute negatively to mental health, especially teenage girls. And last week’s outage has the financial damages to the company reaching nearly $80 million according to one report. 

However, marketers and advertisers still turn to the platform for targeted messages to the nearly 3 billion people the platform reaches each month. It has more than 10 million advertisers accounting for more than 98% of its revenue

Related Article: 6 Things We Learned About Facebook’s First Intern

Would You Renovate a Leased Apartment?

Facebook’s future and potential company breakup is TBD. But the right-now lesson for marketers is Facebook and other social media platforms simply amount to “rented land” for brand marketers, according to Pulizzi.

“While FB is getting all the focus this time, this thinking goes for every social media platform,” Pulizzi said. “It’s rented land. We — the product — get to use FB and its properties for free. In exchange they may give us eyeballs or may not. They can do whatever they want with our algorithms and our content. Same for Twitter, LinkedIn, Snap, Twitch, all of them. While there is nothing wrong with businesses leveraging these platforms, you should have a rent-to-own strategy.”

For example, Pulizzi said if you choose to build a Facebook group, the plan, at some point, should be to move that audience to something you have more control over, like an email newsletter or an owned membership site on your website. “If not, it’s like fixing up an apartment you lease,” Pulizzi said. “Who does that benefit? The owner, which, in this case is Facebook. Business leaders and marketers should prepare for the event that their access to social media sites goes away. Leverage it while you can because the rules WILL change. Don’t believe me? Ask Google+.”

Take Control of Messaging

Markus Kirsch, head of cybersecurity at Rocket.Chat, echoed Pulizzi’s sentiments about marketers needing to ultimately be in charge of their own content and data. Take control of your message distribution channels and keep your audience close so they are not in the hands of a third party, Kirsch said. “Start by using distribution channels that allow you to control and own the customer data and relationship,” he said.

Building an email and/or SMS list of prospects and clients is crucial, according to Landon Ray, CEO and founder of Ontraport. If you don’t, he added, you leave your success and the long term viability of your business to the whims of third party platforms that are so massive, they wouldn’t take notice if you were to remove your business from their platform, Ray added.

“My lesson to marketers is to use these platforms opportunistically to build direct relationships with your list, but don’t count on them to sustain your business over the long haul,” Ray said. “Their incentives are not aligned with your own, and as a business owner whose job it is to create a stable foundation to build on, Facebook and Google can’t be it.”

Related Article: Why Facebook is Discontinuing Facebook Analytics

Too Many Eggs in the Marketing Basket

Social media has become a go-to tactic for many brands looking to drive performance. However, those brands definitely failed to clear as many ads as they hoped on Oct. 4 during the Facebook outage, according to Donna Hamilton, SVP of data strategy for Alliant.

“There are deeper questions as well: what if the outage had lasted even longer? Or how will other challenges facing Facebook affect brands?” she asked. “Brands with diversified approaches to finding their audience across other channels were able to pivot more quickly and had a better chance of reaching their audience elsewhere.”

Diversification — and investing where the audience is — will only help marketers going forward, whether there is another outage, if social media becomes oversaturated, or any number of other factors, Hamilton added.

The big takeaway here is to keep your eggs in a variety of baskets, according to Caro Solari, head of marketing for Affogata. The outage affected customer service channels, which are increasingly online, especially across social networks and WhatsApp. “With the holidays coming up and a tsunami of complaints on the horizon,” Solari said, “this should be a wake-up call vis-a-vis the importance of an owned line of communication to interact with customers.”

Marketers should also pay attention to the fact paid media was also completely down during the recent outage, Solari said. Marketers need to make sure they develop a variety of channels bringing traffic, customers and leads. “That way,” Solari said, “the acquisition machine keeps going even if one or two of the channels are down.”

Understanding Service Level Capabilities

As the advertising supply chain becomes more complex, there are inevitably more points of failure, said Neil Smith, VP Americas for 1plusX. Disruptions present a larger risk for marketers, he added, whether their advertising partner is Facebook or one of the many other technology companies that participate in the supply chain.

“Savvy marketers can mitigate the risks, firstly, by understanding the service level capabilities of their key partners throughout the supply chain and ensuring those partners ask the same of the providers they rely on,” he said.

Furthermore, marketers need to have contingency plans in place that enable them to reach their audiences through multiple channels by way of fast activation. “This can limit the impact of a potential outage on their primary supply path,” Smith said. “The more direct understanding marketers have of their audience, the easier it is to have alternative solutions available to enable strategies to be quickly pivoted.”

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