SMEs impacted by the closure of Facebook applications

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Panic, agony, torture, stress – these are some of the words users around the world have used to describe last week’s six-hour global blackout, from 4:00 p.m. GMT (11:00 a.m.ET) until around 10:00 p.m. GMT on Monday. (October 4), during which social media services Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram were down.

In a statement, Facebook apologized to users around the world for the prolonged outage, which it attributed to network issues that “have had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, shutting down our services”.

The tech giant acknowledged “the impact that outages like this have on people’s lives,” which was the worst the company has faced in more than a decade, when a bug caused the closure of Facebook for one day in 2008.

Even though the company said there was no malicious activity behind the Oct. 4 incident, nor any evidence that user data was compromised, the tech blackout revealed how Facebook and its family of Apps are vital for small businesses in emerging markets, which depend on them as their primary mode of communicating with customers and for advertising and selling their products.

Websites: Effective Backup Plan?

Petiti and Co. is one of many small businesses in Nigeria that has been affected by the six-hour shutdown of Facebook services. According to Sally Saleeman, the company’s customer service manager, the retail business relies heavily on Instagram – around 80% of its current customers have gone through the platform.

“From the moment customers message us or make a request to the point of delivery, communication is often only through IG – so if it’s down you can’t contact them and they can’t. not contact you, ”she explained. .

The Lagos-based fashion retailer was launched in 2016 and has since racked up more than 43,000 subscribers on the platform, where customers in Nigeria and other parts of the continent, as well as international customers in the United States and in Canada, contact them to place orders. Payments are made directly to the company’s bank account or using the Flutterwave platform, Saleeman said.

After experiencing a similar outage in the past, the company launched a website earlier this year to reduce its reliance on the platform and establish a non-Instagram presence to reach customers in the event of a further shutdown. “But even with the website, we still panicked because we couldn’t market our products or track customer orders,” Saleeman said.

In Ghana, Frenchwoman Fleur Hebras, a Frenchwoman who runs a bakery and pastry shop, La Boul ‘Accra, experienced a similar wave of panic when WhatsApp went down. However, she was prepared because after a major cable failed and an internet blackout hit West, Central and South Africa in January last year, she surrendered she could no longer put all her eggs in one basket. “I knew then that I couldn’t depend on WhatsApp alone, and that led me to create my website,” said Hebras, who sells his food products to individuals and restaurants in the capital.

But even with a functioning website, she couldn’t escape WhatsApp’s grip on her business. “I didn’t receive any orders all afternoon and evening, and the next day my Excel sheet was pretty much empty,” she noted. For a small business used to receiving between 60 and 70 different orders per day, the impact has been quite significant.

Hebras noted that not many people use his website because at the end of the day it is much easier and more convenient to place an order through the social media platform: “Why would a customer bother ordering on a website and should he fill out a form with his name? address and contact details, when they can just order via WhatsApp, add their location and you’re done? She pointed out.

Plus, instead of customers driving Osu to his bakery in East Legon – a seven-mile drive that can take up to an hour during peak periods – “to order a French baguette and four chocolate croissants” , they can just send a WhatsApp message with their location, and five minutes later a motorcycle shipper shows up to pick up the order, Hebras explained.

She added that more and more companies, even large companies, are realizing that it is no longer enough to have a physical point of sale, and have seen the need to create a line of communication on the platform, given the proximity it creates with customers.

“I communicate with my suppliers and my production teams on WhatsApp, and if that is taken out today, it would really complicate things for me,” she said.

The situations of Saleeman and Hebras both show that combining the lifelines and livelihoods of billions of people in one business is a very risky business, underscoring the importance for salespeople to start thinking about other ways. to run their businesses outside the Facebook bubble.

But the jury is still out on how effective an alternative will be, because for now, surviving without Facebook and its apps seems extremely difficult – if not downright impossible – to achieve.

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