#Facebookdown: Lessons on Poor Crisis Communications

Author(s): Teodora Siman

A record outage for social media giant Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, left many users unable to access the platform. For a veteran in the technology industry, Facebook made some rookie mistakes in crisis communications.

According to downdetector.com Facebook’s outage started around midday Wednesday, March 13, and affected users across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. When users tried to access the Facebook platform, they received an error message stating, “Sorry, something went wrong. We’re working on getting this fixed as fast as we can.”

Goodwill Impact

Users were confused, because while not all users experienced a total outage, many experienced degradation of services. Rather than exercising transparency, Facebook left users in the dark. Frustrated, many expressed their angst over Twitter. Twitter, a long-time rival, took advantage of the poor communication by making the subject into a Twitter moment.

Even worse, rather than reaching out on its own platform Facebook resorted to tweeting about the outage with yet another vague message. The rumor mill was quick to suggest a possible DDos attack, a theory that was later dispelled by Facebook. Still, no root cause was ever communicated, which leaves us wondering, does the company have something to hide?

Aside from general users, the outage also affected Facebook’s number-one revenue stream: paid advertising. Advertisers typically pay for views or clicks, so while Facebook is not charging during downtime, organizations who rely on Facebook advertising to drive their daily sales would have seen a significant impact.

Financial Impact

During the period that Facebook was down, Telegram, an application similar to WhatsApp, gained 3 million new users. CEO Pavel Durov made sure to announce this through his personal Telegram channel.

This is yet another affirmation that users expect organizations to be resilient, and they have little tolerance for downtime.

Our Take

You are never too big to fail. You can work years to build up the success of an organization and lose it within minutes. Having a solid crisis communications plan is a vital part of enterprise risk management. Addressing the issue quickly (before the rumors start) and preparing communication templates in advance can help minimize the impact to your organization.

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