When the sites go down: Local businesses weigh in on recent Facebook and Instagram outages

St. John’s business owner Denise Goodyear viewed the recent global service interruption as a wake-up call for some entrepreneurs in the province.

Sherri Breen
Kicker

The impact of the Facebook outage on social-media based businesses
Many business owners work online at home through uncertain times. The Facebook, What’s App and Instagram service interruption on Oct. 4 affected small businesses differently across the province. Sherri Breen – Kicker

Facebook, Instagram and What’s App were out of commission for several hours on Monday, Oct. 4, affecting the online community worldwide. Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost billions of dollars during the outage.

The recent social media outage impacted many entrepreneurs such as those who rent vacation homes, sell retail products and consulting services online. While these business owners experienced frustration, they noted how problematic future outages could be if extended beyond a few hours.

Joanne Cochrane-Knight runs Bay Chalets in Placentia including a popular high-end property, The Cliff House. Although the social media outage had little impact on current bookings, it would have been devastating during peak season in June.

A local church now serves as a vacation rental property in St. John's, NL.
An old church in Quidi Vidi is converted into a vacation rental property. Joanne Cochrane-Knight says advertising and bookings for her business rely heavily upon social media platforms such as Facebook. Sherri Breen/Kicker

“Even though sites like Airbnb and VRBO weren’t down last week, the way for people to know we are on these platforms was (down),” said Cochrane-Knight.  “It would be dangerous for us if it was longer term.”

As the tides turned and markets shifted to meet the demands of a changing demographic, entrepreneurs such as Kristen Swain in Carbonear took their businesses online. Swain was forced to shut down her health spa due to the pandemic and is promoting nutrition, weight loss and fitness programs on social media.

The daily routine of running a business online involves posting ads, checking messages and verifying orders. Customers in Canada, the U.S. and beyond shop for Swain’s products and services primarily through Facebook and Instagram. Although the effect of the service interruption was small in comparison to large-scale online retailers, Swain said it puts the reliance on social media into perspective.

“It was extremely hard once it crashed,” said Swain. “You realize how much you use it when you can’t use it because I had no way to track people or post anything that we were selling.” 

Swain predicts another outage like the one on Monday would drastically affect her business, particularly because of her location.

“Being in a small town is a disadvantage in these uncertain times, because you reach people around the world when you use social media,” Swain said. “If you had to go back to the way you did things when you initially started business – like using word of mouth and relying on your community – it makes it a lot harder on a small businesses because it narrows down who you are able to attract.”

Denise Goodyear of Intuitive Media has been working as a digital marketing expert in the province for several years and provides consulting services to local businesses.

“You can’t build your business solely on Facebook.” – Denise Goodyear, Intuitive Marketing

Goodyear routinely advises clients not to place too much emphasis into marketing on a single platform. She said last week’s outage had a profoundly negative impact on clients who rely solely upon the platforms affected, which can be costly in terms of investment and revenue. “You can’t build your business solely on Facebook,” said Goodyear.

As a marketer, Goodyear is weary of the Facebook monopoly as far as returns on investments are concerned.

“If my company shuts down tomorrow but I have a website, I can build another one,” said Goodyear. She also stressed the importance of diversifying a marketing strategy to include a “media mix,” which in traditional marketing means to advertise and be present where your audience is.

“Some are setting themselves up so that when these things go down, their customers have no way to do business with them,” said Goodyear. “My advice is to make sure you have a hub or website so that there is always another way to reach you if one platform is out of service.”

Goodyear said losing a day on a few different social media platforms can mean billions in lost revenue for some businesses. Although that loss is not likely in Newfoundland and Labrador, the impact has a trickle effect on everyone.

“It makes you uncomfortable as a buyer or user of it,” Goodyear said. “It also made people wake up.”

 

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