Facebook outage offers a lesson in diversification

Monday's six-hour disruption shows why agencies can't rely too heavily on one property, or be ready to respond on a dime.

Monday’s six-hour Facebook outage was a rare occurrence, one that not only affected millions of users around the world but also advertisers who rely on it to reach those users.

On Monday, a server configuration change resulted in all Facebook-owned domains – including Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as the company’s Audience Network and Ad Manager products – going down for six hours. In simple terms, an update erroneously told “backbone routers” of the internet that the domains no longer existed, but when another update was sent to correct that error, the Facebook-owned system that would be used to send that message was already down. And since everything from Facebook’s internal team communications to the operational systems in its facilities also worked off of Facebook-owned systems that were now down, it made manual fixes harder to organize and execute.

What the outage showed many people was how central companies like Facebook had become to their online experiences and how much it could disrupt if a web giant were to go down, from sign-ins to websites to the importance of services like WhatsApp and Messenger for keeping friends and families in communication, especially overseas.

But in the ad world, Facebook is a central part of the media ecosystem, whether it be simple buys on the company’s own properties or placements on other apps and sites through its DSP and other ad products. It has become a major contributor to campaign performance, so when an outage happens, it’s undoubtedly concerning.

Fauve Doucet, VP, national media design at Cossette Media, suspects that many buyers had to rely on one of two options: redirecting their budgets as much as possible to alternate platforms that were most likely to achieve similar results based on campaign goals and KPIs, or simply holding back and weathering the storm.

“That being said, instances such the outage are a compelling reason for advertisers to diversify their media spend across channels. Many advertisers lean too heavily on Instagram and Facebook properties – and instances such as Monday’s outage exemplify the risks associated with this strategy.”

Caroline Bergeron, SVP of digital and data solutions at Horizon Media, says the agency kept in contact with its Facebook agency reps throughout the day and advised clients who had active Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp campaigns of the situation. Not only was ad delivery impacted during the day, she says the outage also prevented campaign managers from updating campaigns and accessing reports for the afternoon.

But Bergeron says that, overall, the fact that Horizon’s campaigns run across platforms, and are in market for weeks at a time, means the outage “had minimal impact” on the agency’s delivery and performance.

Taylor Guthrie, director of social media at Media Experts, says an agency needs to be prepared for, and not just respond to, the unforeseen. This means not only being able to turn on a dime in the event of a big disruption, but also having plans and protocols in place in terms of where to pivot client investments. And this is not just in terms of systems being down, but other market forces that may have a client wanting to shift spending.

“In the event of a long-term outage, we shift towards other social and digital channels to ensure performance is not heavily impacted across our clients’ businesses. This was most notable during the Facebook boycott in 2020, in which many clients chose to pause advertising on the platform for the month of July, and in some cases beyond.”

Guthrie says the boycott created an opportunity for greater platform diversification and a structured test and learn. This was beneficial for clients, and the agency continues to push diversification because there is performance to be garnered across other platforms.