How Instagram and Facebook Outages Can Affect Brands and Retailers

On Wednesday, Facebook’s suite of apps — Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp — experienced a wave of global outages, throwing users and marketers into a state of confusion.

The company confirmed via rival platform Twitter that the outages weren’t the result of a cyber attack, but problems continued into Thursday morning in some areas, according to a status page for Facebook developers, which listed the issues as ongoing for 22 hours as of 10:30 a.m. EST. Instagram said that it was back up and running around 1 a.m. EST.

While a minor inconvenience for most users, the disruption could cause brands and retailers to lose valuable business, as Facebook and Instagram comprise an ever-greater share of marketing budgets. Instagram’s ad sales alone are forecast to reach $7.7 billion this year and $10.2 billion in 2020, according to digital market research firm eMarketer. The platform announced in June 2018 that it had hit the 1-billion-user mark. (Overall, Facebook is expected to pull in $24.2 billion in ad sales in 2019 and $27.4 billion in 2020.)

The website tracker DownDetector showed that the problems were concentrated on the East Coast of the U.S. and Western Europe, with some users in South America and the Philippines also affected.

For brands that rely heavily on the platforms rather than owned websites and email marketing lists, outages can be costly. While Facebook said that it is investigating the situation, “including the possibility of refunds for advertisers” who could not access its ad-buying platform, there is still a day’s worth of lead generation, traffic and engagement that can’t be recovered. And for many companies, Instagram represents their biggest community: Nike is among the most followed brands on the app with 85.7 million, while Adidas has 23.3 million.

For direct-to-consumer names, the platform is also a key hub for connecting with customers. Brands like Allbirds, Veja and Rothy’s have leveraged the app to amass hundreds of thousands of followers and millions of dollars in sales. (Web Smith, founder of the e-commerce newsletter 2PM, joked on Twitter that the outage likely sent thousands of DTC brands into a tailspin.)

Many marketing insiders took the opportunity Wednesday to call out the importance of diversifying among various channels rather than relying on one or two platforms that are ultimately out of any individual brand’s control.

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