Blog Post

We Are At the Mercy of Those Social Networks

fail whaleLast week, Twitter went down. Again. We’ve all been there before. Many times before. And yet we all gnash our teeth, wring our hands, cry foul, shake our fists at the sky, maybe hop over to Facebook for a spell, then breathe a quick sigh of relief once the Fail Whale is gone and our Twitterstream flows again. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why are we putting our brand assets, communications and marketing messages, customer interactions and other intellectual property into the hands of others?

Your websites are probably on servers owned by a hosting company that guarantees you “no downtime” because they have (ostensibly) an intricate system of backups to keep your site up 24/7. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest have zero contractual obligation to you to stay online. Yes, they have good reasons to not go down. But what will we do if they do? It isn’t as if we have many other major choices of social networks where we can disseminate our messages on a massive scale.

Sure we can hop from Twitter to Facebook, but what if Facebook also goes down? I don’t see a mass exodus to MySpace happening. Maybe we’ll hunker down in our niche networks or micronetworks like Sprouter or BizNik or a Ning community waiting out the storm. Maybe we’ll check in furiously on Foursquare, Gowalla, Whrrl and the like, hoping someone notices that we’re still alive. Maybe we’ll sit in our blog and send out an email blast inviting people to join us for some conversation in the comments.

What Are We to Do?

If you’ve ever used Second Life for business, you’ve probably faced chronic downtime on a network where you’ve have put creative energies and efforts into building up a storefront or holding a major event, only for the Linden Lab servers to go wonky and you’ve lost sales or had your event ruined. With Second Life, those of us who were entrenched in making it a viable marketing and commerce play for our companies would curse the company that we loved for creating the platform but hated for putting our ventures at risk. Then again, it has never been Linden Lab’s fault that we’ve decided to depend on the servers of a single company for major business transactions.

We Are at Fault

What are we thinking? We wouldn’t build our company headquarters on somebody else’s land that they owned without a contract, some guidelines, guarantees and stipulations. And yet we spend hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of dollars creating assets and putting them on somebody else’s servers — and not even companies that are in the business of keeping things their servers up 24/7. They are in the business of getting you to be on their networks, because the more numbers they gain, the more powerful they become.

Our tolerance for their outages just goes to show how dependent we are on them. We think of these moments as par for the course because we are on the “cutting edge” and dealing with “new technologies.”  We’ve been mesmerized by the promise of exponential reach. We’ve been hypnotized by the potential numbers. We’ve been sold a bill of goods and come out of these moments of outage when some of our marketing and customer service efforts come to a screeching halt, wipe the sweat from our brows, smile feebly, put out our hands and say “Please sir, may I have some more?”

Can We Stop this Madness?

Unfortunately, no. We’re too far gone. We’re in this thing too deep. We’re intoxicated by those moments when we get some genuinely impressive results with our Twitter outreach or our Facebook engagement, and we salivate at the possibility of more of that good stuff. We’re hooked.

So if we can’t stop it, what can we do? Here’s my advice:

  • Don’t replace your stable marketing tactics. Look at social networks and social media marketing as an augmentation of your traditional marketing, not a replacement. Don’t give up the rest of your outreach and marketing efforts.
  • Have a contingency plan. Downtime on the big networks is inevitable. If you can’t be real-time on Twitter or Facebook, where will you go and where can your customers find you?
  • Support niche networks. Yes, Twitter and Facebook are huge, but they’re not the only places offering the same kind of messaging capabilities. Set up shop in a smaller network and support their efforts to be the next Twitter or Facebook. They’ll love you for it and give you the best darned customer service, because they want and need you.

And keep in mind this mantra: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

What are you doing to better distribute your social media presence to safeguard against the Fail Whale?

Fail Whale screenshot from

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

5 Responses to “We Are At the Mercy of Those Social Networks”

  1. You know, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me that we were spending all this time and resources on a site which ultimately, is out of our control. Kind of frightening yet at the same time I have no intention of letting up on our Facebook and Twitter marketing as they’ve been a big help.

  2. Support federated networks like StatusNet. Get your own hosting with an SLA and brand your site. The federation means that all others on the platform communicate with you seamlessly whether users are on your server or on the other side of the world.

  3. There is actually an alternative to facebook coming out this fall. It’s called You can preregister now at that address. You will be able to upload videos, pictures and stories of something cool that has happened to you or someone you know and you will also be able to create your own custom avatar! Very cool! You should check it out.