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Top Takeaways for Brands from Facebook’s Six-Hour Outage

As the adage goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” On October 4, 2021, brands had nearly six hours to reflect on what that meant in terms of the role social media plays in their marketing efforts.

On that day, all Facebook apps – Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – suffered a massive outage during normal business hours, leaving billions of users and marketers locked out and scrambling worldwide.

Facebook’s commanding perch as social media marketing king is unmatched, giving advertisers access to audiences of nearly 4 billion users via Facebook and Instagram. Having that level of reach to such a vast audience is so valuable to companies and organizations that in 2020, the social media giant reported nearly $85 billion in ad revenue – which makes the estimated $58 million loss during the six hour outage that much more impactful.

Facebook wasn’t the only loser, however. Brands whose ads contribute to the platform’s revenue were also on the losing side. For some companies, their ads were simply dead in the water. For others, the “404” or “Page Not Loading” messages that plagued that day also meant the demise of some expensive or time-sensitive projects with day-of activations.

Although no site is immune to technical challenges (and that includes brand websites), Facebook’s outage, not the first nor last of its kind, exposed vulnerabilities for brands that heavily rely on social media marketing efforts to reach their target. It illustrated the value of having a flexible marketing plan that doesn’t put all your ad spend eggs in one platform’s basket.


The Case for a Diversified Marketing Approach
The October outage reminds us that social channels are not infallible and can redline at any time, which makes preparing for potential stress on our marketing strategy that much more important.

The ever-evolving nature of social gives rise to its fair share of challenges for marketers to solve for – primarily how to adapt to the constant changes to interfaces, functionality and features that can affect the data gathered from user experience. This data helps brands strategize for potential performance hiccups or shifts in metrics caused by world events, social trends and cultural conversations that your target is tuned into. These trends can cause a momentary switch to other channels where your brand is less invested, making a diversified portfolio important in understanding if, when, how and where to best engage with your audience.

While you can rely on data to tell you where your target is socially engaged, there is no such thing as a “one and only” in the social sphere. A recent analysis estimated that on average, consumers regularly engage across a rotation of six social media platforms. If one of the media giants experiences a blackout situation, we can readily predict where consumers will likely go to get their daily social media fix, which in turn can help expand and diversify marketing strategies to keep their brand in front of the target.

That said, you don’t want or need to be everywhere – nor is it wise, efficient or affordable to be. Striking a balance between social apps your target frequents, along with considering more traditional mediums such as TV and radio, can lead to a strategy that creates significant touchpoints to help you reach the target with a higher propensity to stay connected.

Social Offers a Lot of Reach, Limited Control

While the Facebook outage demonstrated the massive impact it has on brand and people, it also nudges us to consider that platforms are leased spaces – you don’t own or run them, the platform does. As a result, brands and users have very limited control of what happens there.

Some considerations:

  • Your social content occupies rented space (your account)
  • You occupy that space at an agreed-upon rate (your data and/or the time and money you spend to create and share content)
  • You enjoy access to others “in the building” (your friends and family, target audience and others)
  • You don’t get to choose your neighbors (the content created by other people and brands inside the platform)

The implications are numerous. When a site goes down, brands cannot reach their target. When an ad goes live, brands can’t predict what will populate beside them in the feed or in Stories. In fact, your ad could be parked alongside content that spurs your target to have an emotional reaction that can cross-contaminate the closest thing to it – which could be an ad from your brand.

A recent Ad Age and The Harris Poll found that “78% of people said brands should be concerned about ads appearing next to negative content on websites or apps, and 54% of people said that they associate a brand with the unrelated content surrounding ads on social media and websites.”

Whether we like it or not, social media marketing involves some inherent risks to your brand’s reputation and marketing impact. It’s essential to consider how a diversified marketing approach fortifies your position and helps limit a single social media platform from owning and diminishing your brand’s reputation.

Reaching Consumers on a Platform Under Scrutiny
The record-long outage followed a series in the Wall Street Journal about Facebook and around the time a former employee, Frances Haugen, spoke out against its practices in the media and testified before Congress. These events even led some marketers to encourage their clients to consider a shift around which platforms they invest their ad spend in – reminiscent of last year when over 1,000 companies temporarily boycotted Facebook altogether.

But the Ad Age poll and The Harris Poll both showed that while consumers might want a brand to disassociate with a specific platform, they’re likely to continue using it themselves. This creates a conundrum for brands. They may want to walk away from a platform, but it becomes difficult to do so when their customers and prospects are still present and active there.

As marketers, there is never a perfect solution, only a delicate balancing act. We need to reach our target where they are – doing our best to control the things we can, navigate what we can’t, be nimble and avoid blowback along the way.

While Facebook has been in the hot seat recently, there’s no telling which platform could be next. All the more reason to create a marketing plan that allows you to leverage the leased social media spaces – alongside other earned, owned and paid channels – to survive and thrive during the next social media shutdown.

Interested in learning how to safeguard your marketing plan? Email Dana at darnold@hiebing.com to set up a call.