The Facebook outage was a wake-up call for marketing and advertising
By Pittman Ware
$100 million. That’s the estimated loss in ad revenue Facebook suffered when their entire social media ecosystem went down for 6 hours on Tuesday, October 4th, according to Fortune Magazine. For perspective, if we were to travel back in time to 1960, the year in which we meet the fictional Don Draper, from AMC’s Mad Men, that figure would equal roughly 3 days of total ad spend in the United States across all advertising channels. I mention that because it does a good job of illustrating just how dependent advertisers have become on essentially one platform for the majority of their customer outreach efforts.
The Facebook outage didn’t just cause disruptions for those who use it for advertisers either. Large numbers of organizations use Facebook and its various platforms as their primary communication tool. Take K -12 schools for example, who when facing cancellation due to weather will post that news on Facebook first prior to calling the local TV and radio stations. Facebook is also one of the fastest-growing e-commerce platforms, whose sellers were locked out of their marketplaces suddenly and in some cases, mid-transaction.
It was a nightmare for Facebook itself. Their workplace infrastructure was so bound to their own platform that coworkers weren’t able to communicate with each other and in some cases, were even unable to access the building via their door key cards.
All this is to ask the question: are we, as advertisers, too dependent on Facebook? Or another way, is your business too dependent?
When I design a digital marketing campaign for a client, I like to think of each tactic or platform as being the leg of a stool. More legs, more support, and a more solid foundation for your rear end. Sure, one-legged stools do exist, just like it’s possible to run your organization’s marketing solely on Facebook and its other properties, however, both make it far easier to have the stool kicked out from underneath you.
It’s important to remember that even though Facebook and Instagram pretty much own social media advertising, for the time being, you do have a lot of other options when it comes to digital marketing platforms.
In fact, the number two social media platform in the US isn’t actually owned by Facebook. That’s because it’s not Instagram: it’s YouTube. While most people think of YouTube as more of a streaming platform than a social one, it features robust social media and is utilized by tons of communities to come together across shared interests. If you are running any kind of video on Facebook or Instagram, you should absolutely be exploring the potential of running that same video on YouTube.
And of course, when it comes to digital marketing platforms there’s another 800-pound Gorilla in the room, Google. While Google might not have the most socially engaging of platforms (excluding YouTube) it does have the most direct in the form of search, or more clearly Google My Business. While you might think this is just a tool for letting customers know what your hours are, if you are open or closed during a storm, or a place to aggregate ratings, it's actually a platform where you can post messages for your customers as well. Here's a good habit: every time you post something to Facebook or Instagram, take the extra time to post it to Google My Business as well. Bonus: if you are using a content marketing platform like Hootsuite or Sendible, you can easily add your Google My Business account to the list of feeds.
And then there’s the granddaddy longlegs of all digital platforms: Email. Situations like the Facebook outage are a clear example of why you ALWAYS need to be collecting email addresses from your customers. You need to be able to get in touch with your existing and potential customers quickly in the case that your normal method of marketing and communicating with them is disrupted. Even better, start utilizing a monthly newsletter in order to get them in the habit of reading and engaging with your business or organization via email. It takes time but a solid email newsletter following will more than pay for the time and resources you invest and will always be 100% yours and immune to update issues, service disruptions, and user fatigue associated with social media platforms.
The most important lesson is here, and it is one that we all should have been doing a better job of, is to never put all of our marketing eggs in one basket and for good reason. Facebook and Instagram may straddle to key demographics—baby boomer (Facebook) and Gen-X and Millennials (Instagram)—but they’re not your only route to these consumers, and sometimes they’re not even the best route forward (i.e. search when a user is actively looking to make a purchase).
It’s also important to realize that closer scrutiny is coming for Facebook and its powerful ad platform. For those of us who have been in the digital ad game for a minute, we can remember a time when Facebook’s ad targeting was like playing Doom with GOD-Mode turned on. I could literally target new customers for my restaurant franchise client by selecting a data-set for “people who had used a credit card to pay for a meal in a fast-casual restaurant in the past two weeks.” It was like having superpowers.
But those days are long gone, and as Americans become more and more concerned with their privacy and how companies like Facebook use their data, we’re likely to see more restrictions on how we can target potential customers in the future.
If you are responsible for your business or organization’s marketing efforts and all those efforts went dark for 6 hours on October 4th, I challenge you to find another leg for your stool. Maybe there are customers actively searching for the products and services you provide but you’ve always been intimidated by the complexity of Google Adwords; now is the time to take that plunge. Maybe you’ve been watching TikTok videos for fun and are intrigued by the possibility of advertising on what is now the most downloaded app in both the Google and Apple app stores. Get out your phone, fire up its powerful camera and make your first TikTok ad. Whatever it may be, it is time for all of us marketers to step out of our comfort zone and try something new. I don’t think we’ll regret it.