For businesses that rely on social media sites, outages are a nightmare.
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  • When Facebook and Instagram crashed yesterday, business stopped for many online entrepreneurs.
  • Social media has become a boon for businesses, allowing them to build customer bases and sales.
  • But experts advise these outfits to diversify beyond relying solely on big tech platforms.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

When Facebook and Instagram go dark, is your business really there? That's what many small business owners asked when Facebook and its collection of apps, including Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, went down for about 6 hours without warning.

Facebook and its cluster of sites and apps have catered to the business community for some time, helping them build customer bases, connect with shoppers, and sell products. Small business owners in particular have been able to gain a following through features like Facebook Live and peer-to-peer offerings on Facebook Marketplace.

And, although Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, joked online that the outage felt a bit like a "snow day," plenty of business owners who rely on the social media platforms for revenue weren't as amused.

"Today's Facebook/Instagram outage is devastating for small business owners, especially those who rely heavily on these platforms," Black Label Advisor CEO and founder Jon Elder, who consults for online merchants, told Insider in an email. "There is no disputing the fact that this is a wake up call for brands to diversify their brand presence and traffic sources."

'You realise how much you rely upon this technology'

Jessica Ferrandino runs The Curated Vintage, an Instagram page where she sells vintage furniture and housewares. She noticed that Instagram wasn't working for her around 1pm on Monday, when she was trying to message a customer with package tracking information.

Ferrandino sells her goods as "drops," meaning she releases a collection of items for sale all at once. While she wasn't planning to release a drop on Monday, she had some leftover items she'd planned to mark down and sell via Instagram Stories. Plus, she was planning to send messages to customers who had already purchased goods to provide delivery information - the outage made all that impossible.

"Timing is really important on Instagram - time of day, day of the week - and Monday afternoon happens to be an important time for viewership and customer interaction with my account," she told Insider in an email. "Not being able to have the story sale was definitely a potential financial loss today. It's hard to say how much though."

And while Ferrandino runs her business on Instagram, she relies on other Facebook properties too - namely, Facebook Marketplace. She said she planned to spend Monday sourcing vintage goods to resell, but Marketplace was down, too, so she missed out on items she could have added to her shop.

Instagram and Facebook are the two most crucial channels for Illinois boutique owner Kelley Cawley. Her sales increased 88% when she started hosting daily Facebook Live shows, which she calls the bread and butter of her business. "We felt like our business was down because of how much we utilise both of these platforms on a day-to-day basis," she said.

The outage also cut off crucial communication with customers, as her team primarily uses direct messages in the social media apps for returns and customer service. During the blackout, her team relied on "old school" email, which Cawley said feels more formal and less personal. "We can't go live. We can't respond to people," she said. "You realise how much you rely upon this technology in today's world."

Cawley added that her team tries to spread out their resources among multiple platforms, plus they do have a brick and mortar location for local customers, but none of them are as crucial as Facebook and Instagram. To her, the outage is more of a hiccup than a game changer.

"Things can't be perfect 100% of the time," she said. "That's unreasonable to think that things like this won't happen."

Monday's outage reinforced Ferrandino's belief that it's time to expand beyond one platform, she said.

"I don't think I would leave Instagram completely, but the outage today really made me realise that Instagram cannot be my only platform for selling," she said. "Instagram can shut down at any time and then my shop is just completely gone. Being at the mercy of one company is not a great position to be in as an independent business owner."

Business owners are 'just renting the space' on Facebook and Instagram

Social media marketing expert Michael Sanchez said every one of his clients called him Monday morning in a panic. One client had 800,000 followers on Instagram but no email list, effectively wiping out any chance of contacting customers until the platform went back up.

"A lot of business owners are recognising that their entire business, they don't actually own it," Sanchez said. "It's Facebook that owns it. They're just renting the space that Facebook and Instagram is allowing you to use."

And yet, Sanchez said Facebook and Instagram are too engrained into people's lives to turn away from the platforms completely. "Rebuilding habits is really difficult for anybody, let alone rebuilding your entire business infrastructure," he said.

But the outage is still disturbing news, even for businesses that have moved away from Facebook. Richard Hickling co-founded crypto trader support business ProfitView, which had its Facebook advertising account permanently nixed for unknown reasons, said the outage still strikes a chord. He said that his Facebook-reliant peers felt "blown out of the water" by the sudden disruption yesterday.

"Let's hope that something like this doesn't somehow spread to LinkedIn or Reddit," he said, echoing the fear of relying on platforms for visibility.

Sanchez suggests businesses take ownership of their data and include multiple sales and communication channels like email and setting up a website. They can also adjust their budgets to produce evergreen content that isn't specific to one platform, like podcasts, which can be edited, transcribed, and posted in several formats.

"People think they understand social media marketing, but I think they just understand a platform and not the entirety of it," he said.

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