Takeaways from the Great Social Media Outage of 2021
“Here’s an idea that’s going to help a little, or hurt a whole lot.” -Ted Lasso
There are moments in every year that unite us. These are shared experiences, moments that we can remember where we were and what we were doing during a specific event. The 2021 collective retrospective includes a slide show of chaos (the storming of the Capitol), hope (Covid-19 vaccine rollout), remembrance (the 20th anniversary of 9/11) and heartwarming fun (Ted Lasso).
There were also those six hours that the servers at Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram stopped talking to each other…
— Marth (@aaronmarth) October 4, 2021
…and Twitter brought people together in the way that it does best.
hello literally everyone
— Twitter (@Twitter) October 4, 2021
For those six hours of #facebookdown we were disconnected from scrolling, sharing and communicating via Facebook properties — but we weren’t cut off completely. The outage and the way we passed the time waiting for our channels of choice to get back online can tell us a lot about the state of social media in our lives and marketing strategies.
Leased Properties, Culture and TikTok
First things first: We don’t own any of these channels. The properties we use are on loan and at any given time the owners (see: Mark Zuckerberg & Co.) can decide to change the rules of engagement or do away with the platforms altogether. While we may have the intention of occupying social media channels permanently, permanency is not promised with participation.
In fact, as we learned last week, we are at the mercy of many things that are beyond our control. If we put all of our proverbial marketing eggs in a social media basket, then we are shirt out of luck should something happen. You don’t have to take my word for it: My colleague Aly Lamoreaux waxes wisdom on the perils of a social media-forward marketing strategy.
While much of our marketing efforts rely on social media, social media does not deserve to have all the power. When we divest our marketing efforts from social media we can focus on the cultural backdrop of our goals and how it impacts the ways people engage with content. The soul of good marketing is storytelling. The problem with social media outages is not the outages themselves. The problem is our reliance on these platforms. We can’t get too comfy and forget that our job as marketers is to pay attention and remain adaptable so we can continue to connect and engage our audiences under any circumstance.
There are two things that I believe to be true under all circumstances on the internet and in real life: 1.) Culture is always changing and 2.) Culture always wins. The way people have used social media changes with the culture. If we pay too much attention to the platforms we lose sight of the reason for existing in those spaces. That reason is people. The power for reaching marketing goals and optimizing our efforts on social channels lives in paying attention to the people we are trying to reach. Meeting people where they are and following their leads to relevancy and results.
This point of view is underscored by our recent history. Remember when we weren’t worried about TikTok because it was for teenagers?
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A Little Bit of Shade, A Lot A Bit of Truth
Calculating ROI with social media is a shifty game. Marketers have long quantified social media metrics as earned media and taken far too much credit for engagement. I have been in too many meetings where astronomical engagement is reported and applauded but not considered critically. Why yes, social marketer, you can have a 1000 percent increase in all the things if you increase the frequency of posting and throw a bunch of money at your content. But how do you measure impact and meaning? That requires considering nuances including timing, budget and how many times that post appeared in your mom’s feed because she liked it out of parental obligation (Thanks, Mama!).
Let’s stop chasing ghosts and get real about what matters. At SiteCrafting we have a hard and fast rule that if we don’t believe something will add value to our audience, we don’t do it. It takes time to create content – be it good or bad – so we don’t spend time on the latter. Feel free to borrow a page from our marketing and brand playbooks and consider how everything you do — from tweet to direct mail — adds value to your audiences and fits into your big-picture marketing strategy.
Social media has been part of my professional responsibilities since 2008. It was an exciting time to be alive back then. I reconnected with old friends (shout out to my bestie from 5th grade), met women with similar interests to me (earrings, denim, thrifting) and had a place to talk about things that mattered to me in that moment (The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Lean Cuisine Pizza). If we prioritize connection on social media, perhaps it can be redeemed and redefined. Or maybe it will just go away one day. Whatever happens, I believe in our ability to remain creative and find connections.
I started this thing with a Ted Lasso quote so I shall end it with one, too.
“I believe in hope. I believe in Believe.”