Business lessons from Facebook’s 6-hr outage

Business lessons from Facebook’s 6-hr outage

Small and home enterprises are rethinking their communication strategy as disruptions become frequent

The outage of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram early this month has exposed the perils of doing business solely via social media.

The global disruption started at around 9 pm IST on October 4 and lasted for almost six hours — the worst in many years, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself. Just in case you have missed the big news, Facebook is now called Meta. 

Back to the outage. 

On that day, home chef Vandana Vanderveen lost at least Rs 8,000 worth of business. She promotes her line of ‘Phat Burgers’ through Facebook and forwards the menu and payment details to clients on WhatsApp.

“My WhatsApp was down since morning, much before the outage hit. When the server got back, nine to 10 messages popped up. These were enquiries about my burgers. If I had converted these orders, I would have made Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 that day,” recalls the Sanjaynagar resident.

Vandana is now rethinking her business communication. “For every message I put out, I plan to add a note ‘If you can’t reach me on social media, please feel free to call or drop me an SMS’. I don’t think people have the patience to go back and forth on emails,” she says.

Tania George’s fashion line Bouclé escaped unscathed as the disruption had happened at night. During the day, losses would have been significant as the cheapest apparel in her inventory is at Rs 2,000.

“I had partially deactivated my website. Now I plan to get it up and running. I can’t let these outages affect my business,” says Tania, who has a store in the Commercial Street but relies heavily on Instagram and WhatsApp for pushing her collections, promotions, and sales.

Her concern isn’t misplaced because Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down shortly, this time on October 8 and for two hours. Not too long ago, in 2020, WhatsApp alone had suffered four major outages. This is worrisome if you consider that more than 15 million Indians use the WhatsApp Business app and 1.5 million small and medium businesses use Facebook. And these are pre-pandemic numbers.

Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are owned by one company and a glitch in one can affect the rest of the 'Meta-verse', businesses are well aware. But they say they have little choice.

“The last time I panicked was in February this year. People were scared about WhatsApp’s new privacy policy and vowed to delete it. I moved to apps like Telegram hoping others would migrate too but that did not happen. The scare died down and everybody returned to the ‘holy trinity’,” says Shifa Sheriff, who operates The Culinary Cat bakery via Instagram and WhatsApp.

Shifa did not panic this time. “I am listed on apps like Zomato, so people could still discover my business and order. That’s a good backup,” the resident of HRBR Layout realised.

These social media channels do more than bring and fulfil orders, says Sailaja Nukala, who runs an e-store for organic groceries, IndicLiving. Her startup runs ads on Facebook once a week. Plus, it runs multiple groups on WhatsApp to engage with customers — each group has 190 to 250 members.

“The morning after the outage, my marketing colleague and I called up at least 20 customers, who were waiting to receive their order. The call was to assure them we weren’t ignoring their messages on WhatsApp, that there was a technical glitch. Gladly, we had backed up everybody’s phone numbers and email IDs, something that others take lightly,” explains the founder.

'Build independent channels’

Social media and blogging coach Sunita Biddu says this outage should be a wake-up for small and medium businesses to rethink their dependency on social media. She addressed about 50 entrepreneurs on the subject in an online session right after the downturn.

“Create independent systems, so that if one fails, the rest will keep your leads and traffic going. Make a website, write email marketing campaigns, and utilise social media.”

For a small business, a one-page website that sums up the aim, collections and contact details is good enough. “It can cost you Rs 10,000,” she says.

“Email marketing can be done with your personal ID but it looks more professional with a business email ID. The latter costs no more than Rs 4,000-5,000 per year and is worth having,” she says. Unlike popular belief, mail marketing drives higher customer engagement than a website, she adds.


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