Facebook goes dark: How a six-hour outage cost billions

Facebook's biggest outage since 2008 is a stark reminder for advertisers to spread their bets... and flex their creativity.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, apologised for the outage that took down Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger globally for six hours yesterday. 

Performance marketing campaigns were disrupted across the world, as Australians woke up to find their Instagram feed down and Americans came home from work without being able to check their Facebook updates. 

14% of global ads go dark

Facebook accounts for around 14% of all global ad revenue, surpassed only by Google, meaning a huge proportion of internet ads were disrupted yesterday. 

Based on Facebook’s 2020 revenue of $85.97billion, Monday’s outage cost the company an average of $163,565 in revenue every minute. This represents roughly $60 million based on more than six hours of downtime.

Of course, that missing revenue is tiny compared with how much market capitalisation the company lost on Monday. Facebook shares fell 4.9% Monday, which translates into $47.3 billion in lost market cap.

Sam O’Brien, Chief Marketing Officer at performance marketing platform Affise, says: “The outage of such prolific platforms caused a global panic amongst not only the users who felt lost without access to their profiles and ability to communicate with those closest to them, it also would have had a severe impact on planned social activity for millions of global businesses. 

"More than 4 million businesses currently use Instagram Stories per month, and this number is rapidly increasing. Using a platform like Instagram Stories ads to target and engage with potential new customers gives brands and companies of all sizes the opportunity to showcase a full-screen experience and highlight their offering to users of the app. Affiliate and Partner marketing is fast becoming the backbone of the majority of companies' marketing strategy, with 80%+ of global brands now relying on the power of affiliates and affiliate marketing to increase awareness and profits.”

Downtime creates 21% open web traffic increase

During Facebook's downtime, native ad platform Taboola saw a sustained increase of 21% in traffic on the open web, when compared to normal traffic. 

The image below shows how traffic shifted throughout the day.

This huge increase highlights the direct traffic – usually trapped within a walled garden – which publishers benefit from when readers don’t have access to Facebook. This direct access to readers empowers publishers to forge better relationships and give a better experience.

The data covers traffic to Taboola’s publisher network. Taboola works with over 9,000 of the top digital publishers, reaching over 500 million daily active users.

A 'backbone router' problem

In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg wrote: “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today – I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”

The outage also impacted many of the internal tools and systems Facebook uses in its day-to-day operations, complicating the company’s attempts to quickly diagnose and resolve the problem. Facebook staff were unable to access their company email, or even gain access to some parts of their offices.

Santosh Janardhan, VP Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook also posted an apology on the Facebook blog.

Janardhan wrote: “Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centres caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centres communicate, bringing our services to a halt…We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change. We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime…We apologise to all those affected, and we’re working to understand more about what happened today so we can continue to make our infrastructure more resilient.”

Brands start 'newsjacking' on Twitter

Twitter emerged as the biggest winner from the outage, posting a tongue-in-cheek tweet that was met with good humour by its social media rivals. 

More big brands including Starbucks, Microsoft and McDonalds, also got involved with the conversation, getting plenty of engagement as a result. 

How can marketers prepare for future outages? 

Aaron Goldman, CMO at Mediaocean, a leading global advertising technology platform, says:  "What can and should marketers do when there is a significant disruption to social media service and suddenly eyeballs are lost for an unknown period of time?

“The key is taking an omnichannel approach and ideally having that strategy in place before any one particular platform goes down. The same way consumers don't rely on any one app for all their media consumption and interpersonal communication, brands cannot rely on any one app for all their marketing.

“We like to say that marketers need to market the way consumers consume which means moving seamlessly across channels and screens. To execute on an omnichannel strategy, brands need a centralized platform that connects with all the various media and advertising channels. Marketers can use automated tools to handle budget planning, audience definition, creative personalisation, bid management, and campaign measurement. So if Facebook is down, or just not performing well, the spend will move to other media partners and come back when the issues are resolved.

“At the end of the day, brands can turn challenges like a Facebook outage into an opportunity to connect with consumers in other ways. But in order to execute, brands need to have an omnichannel approach to everything from advertising to content to commerce."