The Fragility of Social Media

By: | April 7, 2014

Ara Trembly is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at [email protected].

On March 11, the Twitter website crashed, marking the social network’s second outage in nine days, according to Computerworld. And this was not an anomaly. In fact, social media sites are prime candidates for meltdowns, with wide swings as traffic tries to negotiate the same electronic pathways at any one time.

Twitter was down for about an hour because of complications stemming from a planned site upgrade, according to the report.

Regardless of the actual cause, however, it is important to note that social media sites are fragile. A sudden increase in tweets or postings is quite likely to slow response on the sites and, in some cases, can bring commerce on them to a dead stop.

This fragility is important to many in the business world, because pundits like myself seem to never tire of saying that organizations need to embrace social media in order to remain competitive. Positive, interactive exposure may, indeed, be a game changer, and we are all well-advised to craft a social media strategy in order to stay ahead of those who would take our business away.

The other side of this shiny new coin, however, is the risk of an inopportune crash.

That may have a destructive impact on an organization that hangs its proverbial hat on social media promotions.

For example, the latest Twitter outage came at a particularly bad time for co-founder Biz Stone, as it coincided with his appearance on a panel about “our connected society” at the South by Southwest conference this March in Austin, Texas.

People were encouraged to tweet questions to Stone using the hashtag #askbiz. Ironically, Twitter was not functioning at that crucial juncture.

As one Twitter fan noted, “That is amusing on many levels.”

Organizations that want to leverage social media for operational, sales and marketing reasons also need to worry that such sites are prime targets for cyber criminals. You may have noticed that the scams are growing increasingly believable.

In part, this is because there really is no privacy on the Internet, and a crook who tries hard enough can gather a lot of information about a user.

That information gives a clever scammer a way to reach users with a message or a pitch that appears to be legitimate.

Of course, many will say that these are the risks inherent in doing business online, and particularly in posting personal information online. And this is certainly true.

Yet, can the insurance industry that uses “secure” images like a rock or a “good neighbor” really afford to play fast and loose in the world of social media?

Even if a site crash or an intrusion is not the fault of our companies, our customers may well associate the instability with us. It becomes a matter of guilt by association — and a very risky proposition in terms of public image for any type of company.

How are we to deal, then, with the desire to tap into new markets via social media versus the risks that these unstable outlets pose?

One answer may be to limit social media involvement to areas that don’t connect directly to the enterprise — and to keep a sharp eye on how we appear to our potential customers on any social media site.