When Facebook went down, what did people “really” do?

By: Richard Michie

When Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all disappeared from the internet for 6 hours on October 4th 2021, the world went into meltdown, with wall to wall news coverage worldwide. How could this social media beast, that the world relies on so heavily, just disappear? How on earth would we cope with out it?

As a business which is embedded in social media, we wanted to find out what people actually did in those 6 hours. So, we surveyed 1,500 people across the UK to find out how they coped in those hours without Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp.

We expected people to jump to other channels like Twitter, TikTok or Snap Chat, to fill the void. Twitter for example, was ablaze with chatter and alive with new user sign ups. Facebook even announced that their systems weren’t working on Twitter!

But the data we’ve collected shows a very different story to the one we expected.

The question we asked was:

When Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp crashed, which social media channels did you switch to?

From a list of leading social media channels, and a few alternative options, 76.25% of respondents chose “None, I made better use of my time”.

That really surprised us.

What we expected was that people would turn to Twitter, TikTok, Snap Chat and the many other channels, but no, they filled their time doing other things.

What this finding shows, is that the UK public aren’t quite as addicted to social media as the media, business, and the marketing industry, us included, originally thought.

This result wasn’t confined to age either, with 12.25% of 18 -24 year olds and 12.47% of 55 – 64 year olds giving the same answer. The results were very similar across all age groups.

Again, this was a surprising result. The media constantly tells us that GenZ and Millennials are addicted to social media and can’t live without access to it. Had the outage been confined to Facebook alone, we would have expected the result of our survey, as users on that platform are now older. But as it included Instagram too, which is typically used heavily by younger users, it was interesting to see.

How does this affect how businesses should use social media in their marketing?

What our survey shows is that the public aren’t as addicted to social media as we are led to believe and that over reliance on social media can be a bad move for your business.

There’s no denying that social media should be a part of a business’s marketing plan, but not the only plan.

Facebook going down for so long was an extreme event, but changes to social media algorithms occur frequently, and can have just as catastrophic an effect on business too.

That’s why it’s really important to ensure that your business has plenty of options available, in addition to your presence on social media, to get your products and services in front of customers unimpeded by shifting the social media landscape, including rare outages like this one.

Key elements are:

Your website and SEO – Setting up your website to be the perfect shop window for your business, with calls to action, and conversion points is essential. Crucially, it must also be found in Google searches using Search Engine Optimisation and Google AdWords.

Email – Using your customer data to keep in touch with customers is a very robust way to communicate, everyone has email.

PR – Getting press coverage for your business will keep you at the top of customers minds.

Broadcast – For businesses with slightly deeper pockets, TV and Radio are still great places to market your business.

Video – If you’ve invested in TV, you should be re-using that on your website, YouTube and other video-centric social media channels. If you don’t have TV budget, don’t worry, you can make really great videos using a smart phone.

You can see the full results of our survey below and toggle the data to delve deeper into our findings.

Data Embedded from our Google Survey – 6th to 9th October 2021

Interested in speaking to The Optimists?

Right from the beginning of our time working with The Marketing Optimist, they’ve taken the time and effort to get to understand Sharp Consultancy as a business and not just a client. We’ve seen a huge increase in the effectiveness of our social media strategy, particularly on Linkedin and we’re delighted with the impact it’s had on the business.

Jamie Caulfield

Regional Director, Sharp Consultancy

It was a pleasure to work with The Marketing Optimist on this project. It felt like a true collaborative effort on the day and they made the interviewee's feel at ease whilst talking about their journey on our RISE programme. The final video was professional and engaging, we have received great feedback around the quality and creativity of the case study. Including the video in our presentation made it come to life, with real humans sharing their stories, so thank you to the Marketing Optimist!

Hannah Prole

Impact Manager, Better Connect Limited

Case Studies


Marketing for Local Government

Moresby Hall Hotel

Hotel Rebranding

Sharp Consultancy

B2B Social Media for recruitment

The Edit LDN

Managing advanced eCommerce SEO

Better Connect

Digital PR and video production for events

Tango Networks

Marketing support for a global telecoms business

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