Today, Facebook is on course to beat the longest outage of its 15-year existence — more than four hours on March 13, 2019. Instagram and WhatsApp were also affected, and for today’s outage Messenger and Oculus VR were hit too. The cause seems to be an ongoing DNS failure.
During the downtime, social media managers and advertisers took to Twitter to bemoan the platform’s blackout, many not sure what to do as the outage lingered on well past any previous platform glitches.
Advice from 2019
Back in 2019, we reached out to experienced social media strategists for advice on what advertisers should do in these circumstances. That advice (given from the positions and roles they held at the time) is still useful today.
“Outages like the one from last week are rare,” said Jon Mottel, director of social strategy for the digital marketing agency Undertone, “When they do occur, they almost never last longer than a few hours.”
The 2019 outage prompted David Herrmann, co-owner and advertising director for Social Outlier, to enact new guidelines around how his team manages a social campaign when a platform goes down.
“As we’ve seen before with networks, typically downtime can range from a few minutes, up to an hour. Last Wednesday was very concerning,” said Herrmann, “I’ve instructed my team to start pausing campaigns if a social network crosses the three-hour mark.”
“It may seem silly, but any social media manager or community manager experiencing problems with a channel should make sure it’s not just them,” said Monina Wagner, Content Marketing Institute’s community manager, “Is your WiFi connectivity strong? Do you need to clear your cache, or reload the app?”
There are also sites like isitdown.us and downforeveryoneorjustme.com to confirm if a network outage is widespread. Once it’s confirmed the platform is down, Wagner said her team determines if the channel is a highly active one for customers.
“If our audience does not typically expect an immediate response on a channel, we approach the outage on a wait-and-see basis,” said Wagner, “If we commonly see a high number of requests on a channel, or if we regularly use it for conversations with our community, we take action.”
For Wagner, that action includes starting a conversation on other channels so that your audience knows your brand is still available. She suggests, if appropriate, brands should consider having a little fun with the situation — using a meme or a poll to ask how the community is spending its “free” time.
“Poke fun at the situation,” said Wagner, “Show your audience you’re in the same boat.” She also recommends using an owned channel like a company blog or email newsletter to distribute an urgent message if necessary.
For anyone managing a client’s social channels, Herrmann said it’s important to let them know what is happening: “The key is to keep them informed.”
Take advantage of the situation
Wagner notes, while inconvenient and annoying, a major outage of a social network can provide brands a great opportunity to understand their community better.
“Use social listening to identify problems that need immediate attention. Track brand mentions, keywords and hashtags for relevant conversations. Use this time to gauge sentiment,” said Wagner, “Identify what you can learn about your audience. What did you discover about their behavior?”
She also recommends re-evaluating your social tool-set depending on what you learn about your brand’s social strategy when a major network goes down.
“Should you join another social channel? Could you beef up your email list? Social media is rented land. What would happen if that disruption turned into a complete shutdown? Would you have another platform for your community?” asked Wagner.
Managing ad campaigns during the blackout
Herrmann recommends brands have someone monitoring their ad spends in such an event to pause campaigns.
“Here’s the import part — screen grab video of you attempting to do this [pause a campaign],” said Herrman, “In Facebook’s instance, if you can’t pause campaigns, and it’s an internal error, you can apply for Facebook credit.”
Shifting ad spend from one platform to another during an outage is not necessarily the best route to take, said Herrmann.
“Some have suggested adjusting ad spends on competing networks, but it’s hard to tell just how long a platform is going to be down to justify that,” said Herrmann. His team advertises on all the major social channels and didn’t notice an uptick in traffic on alternative platforms during Facebook’s downtime.
“My general rule of thumb is make sure at least 20 percent of your budget is optimizing on other platforms when a major network like Google or Facebook goes down. That way, you’re still generating some revenue. But adjusting based on one network’s downtown, even up to a day, is a bit extreme in my book,” said Herrmann.
Mottel points out that if an advertiser has time-sensitive messaging or dollars that need to be spent very quickly, ad dollars would need to be shifted to other channels to ensure the message stays top of mind.
“For a more always on advertiser, drastic shifts to other platforms probably wouldn’t be necessary. However, for short term, high volume efforts like entertainment premieres, a change of investment might need to happen drastically and rapidly to stay necessarily relevant,” said Mottel.
Herrmann said, should losses be substantial, it’s best everyone involved knows and understands what is happening: “The more you can communicate, the less the damage truly will be. Build a plan of action in the event a social channel goes down for days — while it’s catastrophic and unlikely, set it up and put in in place.”
Mottel agrees that communication with stakeholders is crucial.
“Showing clients that the situation has been properly assessed, and a game plan has been proactively laid out, will demonstrate that they can rely on your company in any situation,” said Mottel.
Once the social network is back up and running, Mottel said the first thing to do is make sure all of your ad campaigns are back and running correctly, and that everything appears to be in order from a setup standpoint.
“Keep a close eye on delivery and performance over the next 12 to 24 hours to ensure campaigns have stabilized after going live again,” said Mottel.
In the days after the 2019 Facebook outage, Herrmann said everything was off with the campaigns his team manages.
“We’re not sure if it’s the auction or what, but the key is to pivot quickly if need be,” said Herrmann. He recommends checking your cost-per-actions, along with other outlier metrics, by the hour after the site is back up. The advertising director also suggests having content that has worked in the past ready to post.
“I’d be weary of launching anything new post-site outage,” said Herrmann, “The reason is everything needs to get back up and synced in my mind — that includes people’s behaviors online.”
Beyond checking advertising campaigns, Wagner said brands need to check for any outstanding messages.
“A message may have been sent as service was interrupted, or a message may have come in from another part of the world that did not experience any disruption. Respond to your audience as quickly as you can,” said Wagner.
Preparing for next time
Herrmann said he doesn’t think that anyone can truly plan for an event like the outage Facebook suffered, but that’s not keeping the advertising director from building a plan should it happen again.
“We’re pausing campaigns and pulling back budgets for up to five days post-outage. Not a total blackout, but cutting budgets back for a few days to fully monitor what’s truly going on,” said Herrmann.
Wagner said a plan for such outages should be part of your organization’s crisis control plans. “A social media outage may not affect the integrity of your brand, but it can produce disastrous results for your social team. A plan guarantees your audience will hear from you no matter the channel.”
She said plans should be simple and straightforward and include guidelines on how long your organization should wait before taking action. Also, sample messaging that is platform-appropriate for your social media team to use on an alternative channel. (Will your verbiage/answers/tone on Facebook translate properly to LinkedIn or vice versa?) For employees outside your social media team, Wagner recommends answers to commonly asked questions.
“Your customers may look to more traditional channels to reach the brand. You want your non-social team to be equipped with pre-approved messaging,” said Wagner.
Lastly, she and Herrmann both say it’s important just to breathe.
“Legit, it’s concerning, but it’s out of our control,” said Herrmann, “The key is to make sure your clients are informed, and you’re ready to jump back on once things are ready to go.”
Original reporting by Amy Gesenhues