Jewelry designer Alex Rankin sells 25 handmade rings on a busy day via her Instagram store, earning her just over $150. On Monday, with the social media giant down for hours, she sold zero.
“It was awful,” Rankin told BuzzFeed News.
From sponsored posts to Instagram's storefront, various tools built into Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have become embedded in business plans and budgets for even the smallest enterprises. Small business owners were at the mercy of Facebook on Monday after an outage lasting more than six hours left some with no way to generate revenue or speak with customers. And after losing sales, business owners told BuzzFeed News it made them question how much they should rely on Facebook products.
“Without social media, I wouldn’t have a business,” 19-year-old Rankin said. “It’s how I advertise my rings and how I take my orders for the rings, and how I get my page out there.”
Since launching on Instagram two months ago, her business Crafted by Alex is entirely reliant on the platform, but the outage prompted Rankin to begin a more long-term strategy.
“I plan to have my own website soon so people can order off that,” Rankin said. “I cannot control Instagram.”
The impact of the outage on businesses who use Facebook products has yet to be quantified, but early estimates of the cost to the social media giant put the losses at $100 million.
In response to the impact of the outage on businesses owners, Facebook, which owns Instagram, issued an apology, but it made no clear commitments on how it planned to rectify the losses and mitigate any future mishaps.
"To everyone who was affected by the outages on our platforms today: we’re sorry,” a Facebook company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “We know billions of people and businesses around the world depend on our products and services to stay connected. We appreciate your patience as we come back online."
Daisey Miller, the owner of a holistic wellness center based in Sacramento, described the “strange” moment she noticed she was unable to use her business Instagram account.
“I realized how reliant we are as small business owners on connecting with our clients through Instagram,” Miller said.
Over the past three years, the platform contributed tremendously to the growth of her business, which includes yoga, nutritional consulting, and holistic beauty.
“Instagram is basically how I run my entire business, and I would say 95% to 99% of my clients reach out to me for the first time on Instagram,” the 23-year-old said.
She believes the outage potentially cost her hundreds of dollars' worth of appointments and prospective clients. It was also a sobering reminder that her business lacked independence from social media and the content creation mill that had grown her following.
“It made me realize that I do need to do more, and so it's really urged me to finish up with a website, and I think I'm going to start a newsletter where people will give me their emails, even if they're not current clients of mine,” Miller said.
That’s exactly the advice that Jess Sims, cofounder of the Doers, a brand marketing agency, gave to her clients stressing about the outage.
“We always recommend working with your brand-owned channels, so things like your website, your email database,” Sims said. “They're ones that you can always rely on being there, and you have full control over them.”
Social media managers and digital marketers even found themselves the target of memes as they scrambled to respond to the outage.
Sims encouraged clients to pivot to Twitter to join the wider conversation, even for brands who weren’t accustomed to using the microblogging platform for anything other than customer service.
“Last night it was a case of looking for them to see if there's any opportunities for them to respond to things or have a bit of brand banter with someone else about the outage or just anything that could raise their awareness on the other channel,” she said.
Except that’s much harder for a small business. Hamda Issa-Salwe, who runs the Somali tea brand Ayeeyo’s Blends in the UK, told BuzzFeed News she stayed calm and moved the content she had planned from Instagram over to the company’s Twitter page — but she couldn’t reach the same audience.
“Our following is a 1-to-7 ratio from Twitter to Instagram. It's seven times bigger on Instagram,” she said.
Issa-Salwe said the outage has made her look into a contingency plan of ways to diversify the business's outreach.
“I'm thinking, How many emails do we have? How many people have we got subscribed?” said Issa-Salwe. "In case we do want to launch something like a newsletter in the future."
David Manshoory, cofounder and COO of Alleyoop, a beauty and body products company that first launched on Instagram, said that when the outage hit, "I’m like, Thank goodness we’re diversified.”
Instead, the company sent out an “Instagram might be down, but our site isn’t” promo code message via SMS and email to customers.
The company still felt a drop though; Manshoory said sales were down about 10%.
“It proves a point that you can’t control everything, and it’s good to have the business grow on multiple legs instead of one,” he said.
And other small businesses are learning that lesson, fast. Although the outage affected the UK in the evening, Issa-Salwe said that’s when most of her sales are made.
“I did see quite a dip in sales," she said, “but interestingly enough, now that it's gone back online today, we did have a bit of a surge in sales earlier in the day."
Her suspicion? People were making up for lost time, spending Tuesday on Instagram to "catch up with everything that they didn't see yesterday.”
Correction: Alex Rankin's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.