11th October 2021

How will future social media outages affect brands? 

How will future social media outages affect brands?

Where were you in the great social media outage of October 2021? Or the second one… 

The start of October has already seen two social media outages ("configuration changes", according to Mark Zuckerberg) and it descended the digital world into chaos. Was it that dramatic though? Depends on who you ask.

What happened?

Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram were plunged into digital darkness for hours on 4th October, and again a few days later. For some, it was a mild inconvenience as people couldn’t send their friends memes, but for others it cut off their only source of communication with loved ones across the globe. 

Twitter, one of the only big social media giants not affected by the outage, had users flocking to the site to mock the other platforms. Brand Twitter in particular took the opportunity for exposure and ran with it, cracking jokes and creating memes at the expense of its other siblings. 

Twitter cheekily announced ‘hello literally everyone,’ with big brands like McDonald’s, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and KFC chiming into the conversation. Even Adele joined in!

This outage was a good opportunity for big brands to direct attention to their Twitter accounts and adapt quickly to changing social media needs. It acted as almost a dry run for future outages, seeing how quickly brands could adapt to the ever changing global landscape. 




But what happens if it’s Twitter next time? LinkedIn? All of them? 

Undoubtedly, there will be more outages to come, and if one channel goes down, then users will flock to other platforms. When one platform goes down, it’s a good temporary boost for the brand’s accounts on other platforms. Everybody wants AND needs to be connected, on whichever platform is readily available. 

Social media dependence is one of the downsides of the technological revolution. Most people who use at least one Facebook product (and there are 2.76 billion of us who do), were inconvenienced by the outages, not being able to post dog pics or send memes via Messenger. Some users even rejoiced at the forced break, allowing for jokes about returning to the days of email chains and MySpace (the good old days). 















However, for those whose livelihoods are based on social media, the outage cost them greatly. Like the small art business, who saw a loss of income they couldn’t foresee. Or, the influencer whose scheduled sponsored advert failed to appear, risking their coveted brand deal. We all joke about influencers, (Influencers in the Wild is a particularly funny account) but if that is their sole income then it suddenly becomes quite serious. 

For charities, as an example, the loss of direct marketing channels was costly. Such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, who were in the final hours of a crowdfunding campaign, #theirlegacyyourfuture, their £1 million goal was halted in their final push. Luckily, they were able to continue their campaign the next day and reached their goal – but what would have happened if the outage had been longer? Across more platforms? Social media has allowed charities to use their platforms as a new and cost-effective way to fundraise, but this keeps charities reliant on Facebook and the other big names to continue this strand of fundraising. 

According to fact-checking website Snopes, Facebook lost $79 million in ad revenue during the 6 hours of downtime. That’s over $150,000 for every minute of the outage. All of that money, including brand spending from organisations all over the world. What would the cost be in the future?

Social media is ultimately a connector, and for over 15 years it has grown into an empire. What happens if something takes down the empire we revolve our lives around? Build our businesses around? Obviously, it is in everyone’s best interests to keep social media giants afloat for business, personal and professional reasons, but that dependence on social platforms is risky without other types of communication. 

Brands need to have contingency plans in place for social media breakdowns and keep their finger on the pulse for any news of outages. They will also need to keep their platforms more secure, just in case outages lead to hackers getting hold of valuable information. Ultimately, social media outages will increase cyber threats, and as social media is an evolving beast, it will keep on changing so that in 5, 10, 15 years, these risks will look completely different. 

Different problems will be faced, but as long as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms have robust cyber security protocols in place, hopefully, future outages won’t impact brands so heavily again.