How to protect your marketing from platform outage

Each digital platform has a seductive array of benefits, making it feel easy for your business to be steered by any one of them. But what happens if your favoured channel goes down or people move away?

If you don’t have an omnichannel approach your thinking is probably too narrow, argues Aaron Goldman, CMO, Mediaocean

They deliver a lot of benefits, these large digital platforms. Reading real-time reaction to breaking news from a diverse crowd of commentators on Twitter? Amazing! Being able to add any group of friends and family to a WhatsApp group and organise a party with them? Super useful! Kids in the living room watching endless TikTok videos without headphones on? Well, quite annoying, but they love it!

And for us marketers, of course: the ability to fine-tune how we target campaigns on the basis of persistent audience segmentation, and showing people content they actually care about in the process, is a revolution in the industry about which, I think, we still have a lot more to learn.

I’m partly starting on a celebratory note here to balance the discussion I’m about to enter about the challenges of large platforms. But it’s also worth pointing out the good points because, in recent weeks and months, it feels like the relationship between platforms and people has started shifting. There’s nothing new about social media scepticism, of course, but there might also be a subtler thought-trend emerging about what happens when so much of our digital lives revolve around relatively few businesses.

Consumers and platforms

The sense of ‘platform anxiety’ was exemplified by the outage Facebook, Inc. suffered in early October. For the billion or more users who probably tried to use Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram for those six long hours, the downtime will have been something of a bucket of cold water. The digital tools we use every day have become second nature, and reaching for your phone can feel as automatic as scratching your nose. For them to go dark might not be quite like losing a facial feature, but the outcry on those platforms that remained standing was very real.

This level of collapse will certainly remain an astonishingly rare event, but outcry over the actions (or failures) of online platforms is growing increasingly common, and is likely to keep growing. A few weeks after the Facebook outage, for instance, an independent British media outlet raised the alarm when its YouTube channel – with 140,000 subscribers and 10s of millions of views – was abruptly deleted from the platform. Its reinstatement later that day followed protest and condemnation from all sides of the political spectrum.

On any number of fronts, from tech to content moderation to brand reputation, the potential issues that come with the benefits of large platforms are becoming more visible. As people whose working lives revolve around understanding how, when and why people interact with media, it’s an important thing for us to track.

Platforms and marketers

The Facebook outage itself had a different flavour for marketers, of course, with PMW noting that six hours of downtime equates to tens of millions of dollars of ad spend going unrealised. Ultimately, the gap in outreach experienced that day is unlikely to have been something that most campaigns can’t bounce back from but, just as it highlighted social reliance on these platforms, it will have given many marketers food for thought.

What, for instance, would have happened if this event had coincided with a major campaign launch? How can we account for the impact of outages and plan them into our risk analyses? What other kinds of interruption might come out of the blue when working through these platforms?

Considerations like this are one of the reasons why I’ve long held that marketers should always be thinking in terms of omnichannel strategies. The capabilities that digital channels offer marketers are now an essential part of our toolkit – and will only grow in importance – but that does not mean that we should limit our range to a handful of core platforms.

There are many benefits to working flexibly across a diverse range of channels. It makes campaigns more robust in the face of unexpected issues, but it also enables us to find and pivot towards unexpected upsides: by managing and measuring many tactics, marketers can spot where and when their carefully wrought creative most resonates.

Consumers, platforms and marketers

Above all, marketers need to market the way consumers consume, and platforms are at the centre of their universe. Facebook might not be the world’s pre-eminent social media platform forever; the company itself just marked that fact, of course, with a name change that points towards a future based in the metaverse. Even if and when AR/VR gain popular momentum, however, there will still be buyers reading physical newspapers, websites and, yes, even social media feeds. 

As ever, marketers will need to work across the full spectrum to engage consumers and compel them to action. And consumers will continue to give their time and attention to the platforms and marketers that provide the most reliable value. Only when we take a truly omnichannel approach can we safely love the platforms for what they can give us, and find balance in the ecosystem.