Seriously, you have to post a tweet about that. Maybe what happened is as monumental as seeing your favorite celebrity walking on the street, or maybe you just need to let the Twitter universe know how delicious your lunch was. When you went to the Twitter main site, however, you found a cute albeit disappointing message telling you that the website is temporarily down.
Does Twitter’s cutesy approach to downtime really work, and should other businesses use it as a model?
In a world of “I want it, and I want it now,” website downtime and slow Internet connections are possibly some of the most annoying problems that people never think about—until they have to deal with them.
To take the edge off user frustration, Twitter chooses to reject a simple black font message on a white backdrop for something aimed at evoking smiles. When the website gets bogged down, you get treated to the site of birds trying to lift a whale. When Twitter undergoes maintenance, you see a talking ice cream cone. Then there are the “technically wrong” occurrences relayed by a robot alien.
Humor’s Role in Business
The most memorable commercials during any Super Bowl are the ones that make you squirt your beer out of your nose, right? This goes to show that humor plays an important role in business-customer relationships. Quoted on BBC.com, a pastor at a church that regularly draws tens of thousands of followers, made the point, “If you can get people laughing, you can get people listening.”
Indeed, humor serves as an effective and appropriate marketing tool in many instances. When Twitter uses cutesy images to announce downtime, however, they are essentially using a flaw in their system as a marketing event. One social media blog pointed out, “By making the downtime into something of a joke […] they manage to turn the event into a marketing opportunity that websites and news sources duly reported on increasing their exposure. This is why many more sites have taken a similar policy to downtime, and why it’s almost ‘trendy’ for sites to go down it seems.”
Users of big websites like Twitter put up with downtime, whether or not the site makes it into a joke. For smaller businesses, however, downtime is more likely to cause loss of productivity and loss of customers. This is why following the Twitter trend is not good for everyone. Anyone thinking about starting their own website should thoroughly research web hosting downtime using a reliable source in order to avoid the losses that can result from technical errors.
Making Fun out of Failure
Website downtime is a company failure that is obvious to the public. Granted, sometimes website downtime is necessary or uncontrollable, such as when the server requires scheduled maintenance. It would seem logical, however, for an Internet giant like Twitter to have a solid backup plan in place to keep their site operating as much as possible.
It isn’t exactly a tragedy if you miss out on tweeting about the weird guy sitting on the back of the bus, but imagine what would happen if other major websites took the same laid back approach to downtime as Twitter. If big email providers or banking websites experienced downtime as frequently as Twitter and tried using humor to soothe users’ frayed nerves, the chances are that it would not work.
Of course, Twitter is just a social media site. No one is going to lose money or otherwise suffer because of downtime, right? Wrong.
CNET points out, “For publishers, marketers, and self-promoters, however, Twitter downtime translates into financial loss.” Some people make their careers out of promotion on social media, so Twitter downtime means lost page views and less opportunity for conversion.
In 2012, VentureBeat asked an analyst to estimate just how much Twitter downtime costs businesses, and according to his estimate, the economy could lose up to $25 million for every minute of Twitter downtime. Twitter’s user base has only increased since then, meaning that downtime costs even more now than it did then.
Twitter’s downtime attracts attention for the site, but they could handle it better. How? Rather than making downtime into a joke, make it into a rarity.