On March 13, an estimated 2.6 billion people were horrified by being denied customer service engagement with brands for a full 24 hours, when the Facebook family of apps – including Instagram, Whatsapp, and Messenger – went down global worldwide.
Ironically, it happened the day after the internet’s birthday. Just 30 years and one day before that, Tim Berners-Lee had submitted a proposal that would become the World Wide Web over the next couple years. It’d be another decade until humans really connected online, and around another five after that until Facebook arrived. Who’d have imagined a decade ago, or even five years ago, that the whole world would notice when one web server went down?
And so, for more than half a day, while some folks were frustrated they couldn’t “like” their friend’s $14-sandwich lunch photos, ask their favourite airline about an upcoming flight, or track down their coffee shop on Instagram, for brands, the outage was a nightmare.
What We Know
Facebook assures us this was not a DDOS attack. In a “distributed denial of service” attack, hackers bombard a platform’s network so it can’t be accessed. Facebook says it was caused by a misconfigured server.
When just one misconfigured server can cause that kind of global disruption, many wonder if Facebook has too many network eggs in its basket. Will decentralizing occur after this? It’s anyone’s guess. But with an outage that clocked in at around 24 hours, depending where users were located, the downtime was a lesson in preparedness for brands and others relying heavily on the social network.
Apparently, Facebook’s not the only one with too many eggs in one basket. While we’ve cautioned our clients over such dependency in the past, it’s one of a few messages worth repeating.
Diversify Your Networks
Multi-network strategies exist for exactly this situation. Sure, it’s been 11 years since Facebook has had an outage of this magnitude (even that doesn’t compare, though, because that was with only 150 million users at that time, not a quarter of the planet) but it now appears even Facebook is not too big to fail.
Companies on the ball launched immediately into action, announcing on Twitter and other networks, like Snapchat and Pinterest, that they knew Facebook was down, but they were still open for business through those platforms, as well as through email for clients needing assistance. That’s a textbook response to this kind of massive network outage.
But if all your eggs are in the Facebook-family basket, you lack those fail-safes. Unfortunately, Facebook’s recent decision to integrate its messaging systems’ backends (including Messenger, Instagram, and Whatsapp) means message-reliant customer service teams will likely face such outages again, especially now that their vulnerability has been exposed to hackers.
Get a Plan, Stan
So, if such a dark day should rise on Facebook or other platforms again, what will you do? Plan now. Establish how you’ll communicate with your internal comms teams, especially if you do virtual meetings through Facebook Workplaces or Google Hangouts and other platform-dependent systems. If you’re at a loss for where to start, we’re savvy on intervening in these situations and getting the word out to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
But what about other access-based issues? Are you ready for those, too? When the Cambridge-Analytica privacy scandal rocked the online world in 2018, Facebook locked out API access without warning, leaving marketers scrambling for days because many didn’t know their log-in passwords. Do you know yours? Can you flip from API-based community management to team-based intervention on a dime? We can and we do.
Strategize for Crisis Scenarios
How to deal in any given strategy isn’t something to solve after the dam has burst and the flood’s begun. You need to know where your paddles are so you can get with the flow before panic rises. A prepared team is a team in control.
If you’re doing a product launch and an outage happens, then what? Or what about something completely different, like some mass tragedy unfolding when you’ve got a campaign planned? How do you pivot in a meaningful way without isolating or offending consumers?
Obviously you can’t anticipate exact calamities in advance, but it’s possible to come up with a variety of response scenarios that include everything from increasing flex capacity to mitigating PR issues through to juggling the service team members to other platforms during an outage, and even how to save a campaign in light of a humanitarian or natural catastrophe dominating the web that day.
We can help you come up with a variety of contingency plans for “what ifs” and, if you need us, we can be there to help implement them after the dam breaks.
Be Like the Scouts
The Boy and Girl Scouts of America have the best motto ever: “Be prepared.” Having a plan can feel like a waste of time if it never gets used, but in the face of adversity, it will save the day. Even if it’s for a completely different scenario, you’ll find it still helps you sort out everything that needs to happen because you’ll have prioritized what’s critical.
And if you want to be prepared to stave off hacking or other vulnerabilities, it’s time to change your account passwords. While Facebook says it wasn’t a DDOS, it’s best to be proactive, especially now that the world knows how vulnerable their network can be.
Besides, you should change account passwords regularly anyhow, especially when team members with access are leaving. No one wants to be like HMV, back in 2013, when they didn’t change the Twitter password, and 60 fired employees took it over to live-tweet their firings.
So be prepared, diversify your coverage, respond immediately in the face of down time, and stay on top of account passwords, both for security reasons but also for human intervention when third-party API access fails.