On March 13, 2019, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp (a messaging app owned by Facebook) was down around the globe. Users were in a panicked, frustrated state over the outage. There were communication problems, content wasn’t uploading, the ad services were down—it was the biggest outage in Facebook’s history.
Originally, there were even rumors that it was a cyber-attack. Facebook dispelled those rumors fairly quickly, but it’s not unthinkable that a major tech service could be the target of such an attack.
What Exactly Happened?
Facebook said that a change in the servers that they use to configure their network is what caused the outage. Basically, routine maintenance put the world offline from Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp for over fourteen hours. Many users took to Twitter to complain and talk about the outage. The hashtags #FacebookDown and #InstagramDown were trending. Facebook and Instagram even took to Twitter to keep everyone in the loop. It was big.
An estimated 2.7 billion users were unable to access their accounts or connect with friends, advertising campaigns, work messaging, or anything else they connect with using these social media networks.
Everyone from social media influencers and business owners to the everyday social media users were voicing their concerns and frustrations over the outage. And an unthinkable amount of ad revenue was lost.
Early Thursday morning, everything started coming back online. Instagram posted on Twitter to announce their return to function. The rest of Facebook's apps followed, returning to their normal use.
What Does the 2019 Facebook Outage Mean for Dental Practices?
An outage like this reminds everyone how much we rely on these social networks and what life would be like without them. They’re an incredible, generally well-functioning means of communication, networking, and bonding. We can connect in groups, such as all the great Dental Facebook groups where dental professionals from around the world connect with each other. They make our lives better and easier in many ways. And Facebook ads offer some of the best ways to attract new patients to our practices. So, it makes sense that we use them a lot in our business and personal lives.
But the 2019 Facebook Outage teaches us several lessons we should take forward. Here are two things we can learn from the outage.
We must be able to function independently of Facebook.
If there is one thing we need to learn from the 2019 Facebook Outage as dental professionals is that we cannot build our practices in such a way that we collapse if they collapse. We can't rely on Facebook to keep our practices alive.
Diversify the ways in which you communicate and market. Communicate with current and potential patients using text, email, the phone, and other social media channels so they know where to look for you when one of these services goes down. Twitter got a big boost during the outage—even Facebook and Instagram went to Twitter to talk with its clients. Give yourself and your practice backup options people are already accustomed to using to connect with you. That way, if one platform goes under, you won’t go under with it.
Do everything you can to collect contact information that works independently of platforms.
We don’t control Facebook; we don’t control Instagram; we don't control WhatsApp or Twitter or LinkedIn. Those are all just services that allow us to connect with their users. We might have a way to connect to people's “profiles” on those services. But if those sites go down (temporarily or for good) we have no way to connect with our “followers,” “fans,” or “friends.”
We tend to think of our “followers,” “fans,” or “friends” as connections that can’t get taken away from us. The reality is those connections all disappear if the platforms connecting you with them disappear.
If you do not have independent ways to get in touch with people, you will always be at the whim of the social media platforms. Anything can happen with an algorithm change, outage, or bug, such as one that recently deleted followers from people's Instagram pages at random. Huge accounts lost millions of followers, which, today, equates to millions of dollars in lost revenue. Facebook apps could shut down in a blink of an eye. All those connections would disappear. The social proof of having hundreds or thousands of followers would, too. And your platform to communicate with people would. If we keep relying on these programs to run our business, we could be without data in minutes. We shouldn’t give them the power to take us down.
Instead, do everything you can to collect email addresses or other contact information from your followers. Offer incentives to people who sign up for your newsletters. Give people a reason to share their contact information with you. Also, encourage people to connect with you on more than one platform.
That way, the next time one platform goes down, you will be able to still connect with people using email. At the very least, you could still connect with people on another platform, like Facebook and Instagram did using Twitter.
Are you protected against future outages?
Of course, we’re not discouraging you from using and taking advantage of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and any other network you’re on. These can all be wonderful tools to grow your practice, and it would be detrimental to ignore them completely. And Facebook and Instagram's ad platform has been life-changing for many dental practices.
All we suggest is keeping back-up plans, especially ones you control a little more, like email or other contact information. Connect with people on multiple platforms. And if you use other people's platforms to connect with teams, such as WhatsApp, Facebook's business tools, or other tools, such as Voxer or Slack, have back-up ways to contact people if something goes down. It’ll save you a lot of time and money when one platform inevitably goes down.