FB and WhatsApp
The Facebook and Instagram social networks, plus messaging service WhatsApp, were kaput for hours on Monday. Image Credit: File

Dubai: UAE companies may need to reconsider their social media strategy after a near six-hour WhatsApp and Facebook outage brought business to a halt.

Several small and medium businesses rely on the popular social media platforms for everything from sales to promotion.

“Yesterday, from seven 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM, we got at least 50 panic calls from our clients,” said Zeeshan Sajid from Medialink, a digital agency.

Companies outsource their digital marketing efforts to companies like Medialink instead of handling it in-house. “This kind of outage happened with Facebook and WhatsApp today, but tomorrow it can happen to any other social media platform,” he said. “The way to handle this is to have diversified brand presence and companies need to understand this.”

WhatsApp’s business accounts option allows companies to interact with customers using automatic chat bots. “When we took it to our clients, they started taking it as an alternative for regular chat bots,” said Sajid.

And this over-reliance on just one product or platform came back to bite companies and organizations on Monday.

Full stop

“Everything came to a complete stop in terms of ads last night,” said a spokesperson for Dubai-based Hashtag Social Media Agency. “Since it lasted for just 5-6 hours, big businesses did not really take notice. Now, they are aware that if this happens for a week or a longer period, that’s going to be a serious problem”

If more of such outages happen, businesses will begin to focus more on Twitter, Linkedin and Tik Tok, said the spokesperson.

Businesses hit

Amy Gillingham runs a new business selling energy balls in UAE, and the disruption took a huge toll.

“We are a new business producing and selling energy balls - we heavily rely on Instagram and WhatsApp,” said Gillingham. “The disruption resulted in zero orders being processed during that time.”

Gillingham, in the meantime, encouraged clients to order via email or phone call. “We are in the process of setting up a website and looking at other SM platforms for the future incase this issue arises again,” she added.

Dubai-based startup SLF said the disruption had led to a slight slowdown in the performance of its campaigns. “We hope that within the next few days it will pickup again - luckily our disruption wasn’t massive as we did not have any major communications pushed out before or within the time of the outage,” said Hasan Abou Fakher, CEO and Co founder, SLF.

Business as usual

Osama Nawayseh, Middle East sales manager at tech firm Vision-Box, was not at all concerned by the disruption. “We could really pick up the phone and speak as there was no outage on the calls,” said Nawayseh.

“We lost Instagram and WhatsApp - it is one of the communication tools that we use sometimes, but it does not really impact our business honestly because we have different channels,” he said.

Heavy dependence

Almost 99 per cent of UAE’s population is active on social media and the average daily time spent by each individual on these platforms is 2 hours and 55 minutes, according to Global Media Insight. Among the different plaforms, Youtube is the most popular with 8.69 million users, followed by Facebook (7.85 million) and Instagram (6.67 million).

WhatsApp, which has 7.97 million users, is the most popular messenger app, followed by Facebook messenger at 6.4 million.

Government role

The government can play a role in protecting small and medium enterprises from the risks emerging from social media dependence.

“Through syndicating robust, local platforms for e-commerce, they can help SMBs get online with minimal incremental cost and sufficient security,” said Adel Belcaid, Partner, Regional Practice Leader, Communications, Media and Technology, Kearney Middle East.