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On October 4, 2021, Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp went dark on the world wide web. The sites, services, and apps under the Facebook brand were non-functional and many displayed errors and “unreachable” messages that indicated the company was offline. The outage lasted upwards of 5 hours.

For some this outage was a breath of fresh air — a chance to disconnect from social media, savor the absence of pings and messages, social FOMO, and unrealistic filters. For others, however, this outage was devastating, causing businesses to lose connection to their consumers. Sales suffered. Companies in the service industry, entertainment industry, and social sectors, areas hard hit by the pandemic, struggled. Internal communications in certain organizations stopped. Medical calls to hospitals and ERs from whatsapp users stopped.

For 5 hours, anything connected to Facebook was frozen and organizations of every size and shape were left considering the following question: How dependent am I on an organization I cannot control and a profile, calling service, or company page I do not truly own?

Isaac, M. & Frenkel, S. (2021, October 8). Gone in Minutes, Out for Hours: Outage Shakes Facebook. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/04/technology/facebook-down.html

What Happened That Day

I’m not a developer and the technicalities of the internet sometimes feel beyond my writing capability. If you’re interested in the exact breakdown of the issue from a technical perspective then this Cloudflare Article is for you. In layman’s terms, however, this is the account of what happened.

The internet is a “network of networks” linked together by Border Gateway Protocol or BGP. In other words, the internet is like a series of roads that have to pass through various toll stations to get to the final destination. The toll stations keep things connected and get “travelers” (or internet users) ultimately where they need to go. On October 4, Facebook’s toll station disappeared. All roads leading there suddenly had nowhere to go.

Why is this relevant? It’s called ownership.

Facebook is a platform that connects people around the world and provides them a space to share ideas and communicate virtually. It is, by definition, a service, and services can be withheld, whether by accident or by purposeful removal.

As a free service (let’s omit ad services in this example), Facebook is not required to maintain your organization’s internet presence. They will prioritize the needs of the company and its mission to connect people over yours any day. Perhaps that’s blunt, but it remains no less true. You might own the content you create…but if you’re only using Facebook, you certainly don’t own the space on which it lives and you have no control over how Facebook promotes, or doesn’t promote, your business, nonprofit, or group.

Why You Need a Website

A website is your own individual destination with its own individual toll booth. You own your content, you own your digital “real estate,” and you have a primary way for people to find you that isn’t dependent on a complex social network service. You can pursue more marketing opportunities, like SEO or search engine ads. You have a dedicated line to your audience that you control and regulate.

Beyond that, you have a way of reaching non-social media users, and users who have only certain social networks. In other words, a well-designed website can help you reach a portion of the market you might not normally reach. (Case in point — Take a look at Facebook’s non-social media website presence.)

Do I need Facebook for my business or just a website?

The short answer: Yes.

The longer answer: both Facebook and your website provide a platform for your company to communicate to your audience. It’s true that you have greater control over the marketing and messaging on your website. But, it’s also true that social media channels like Facebook and Instagram provide increased visibility and brand awareness to internet users.

Like any tool in a craftsman’s belt, Facebook, Instagram, and social media have their uses. These platforms provide a space for advertising and brand awareness campaigns that can help your business while also being a place of organic communication. In short, Facebook and Instagram are incredibly helpful, but effective marketing, like any craftsman’s project, requires more than one tool.

Facebook ads are a fantastic way to drive engagement…but if your ads stop for 5 hours there are fewer consequences than when your entire web presence goes down. It’s always smart to have another place to communicate with your clients and run your business (i.e. a company website).

Where Do We Go From Here?

Start by asking yourself the following questions: 

  1. Is your only way of communicating with your clients via one platform or social service?
  2. Do you have multiple channels that aren’t dependent on one another? (I.e. When one service goes down everything goes down).
  3. If Facebook goes down do you lose your company’s ability to operate?
  4. Are you comfortable with Facebook making decisions on how little or how much to promote and advertise your company?

If Facebook controls your digital footprint it might be time to take the first step and learn more about the website world.

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