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Has Twitter Made Downtime Cool?

twitter downWith the advent of the internet a lot of business has changed almost beyond recognition, and for the most part this is good news. Business has become cheaper, more accessible for everyone, and much more communicative and open since the web first began connecting people with each other and giving us access to realms of information. As a result many organizations cropped up that never could have before, and the relationships between companies and their customers/clients became a lot more two-way and even casual.

In many ways this is good news, and the ability we now have to get in contact with the people who run our products and services of course can help to give us more control over the way they’re delivered and more faith in the companies providing them. At the same time though, in some ways it seems that webmasters and business owners have become almost too colloquial and chatty and that this has been damaging the quality of their service.

It’s Cool to Crash

Take ‘down time’ for instance. When a website goes down this essentially means that it’s not providing the service it should be due to some kind of error on the part of the site owners which should be perceived as an embarrassing failing not an opportunity for free marketing. Sure it’s often outside their control, but not always if they use their own servers and you’d think that a big organization like Twitter or Facebook would have backup servers or use a cloud service so that they were prepared for just such contingencies – when a website is down, that company has failed you.

But more and more that’s not the way it’s being treated. If you visited Twitter earlier this year for instance you might have been greeted by this message:

Twitter is currently down for <%=reason %>
We expect to be back in <%=deadline %>. For more information check out Twitter Status. Thanks for your patience!

Complete with some random bullet points, a broken image and some default link colours. If you were to then head to the Twitter status page as directed, you would have been given the option to ‘tweet’ about the outage, which of course is a purposeful irony.

By making the downtime into something of a joke, Twitter of course hoped to ease the frustration that many viewers might have, and at the same time 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 – it’s free exposure and a chance to be witty, all the big sites are doing it so what’s not to love?

Insult and Injury

While it’s of course excusable that a website as big and complicated as Twitter might go down from time to time, it’s also something that does deserve to be taken seriously. If your job is in social media marketing, then Twitter could well be the bread and butter of your day job. If you are a business and you need to use Twitter to promote your new product, then this outage could genuinely have cost you money. And if you’ve spent years building up a profile with a legion of loyal followers, then you might want a little more assurance that that hasn’t all just got lost in cyber space. In other words, Twitter has failed to deliver on its promise and the downtime has probably cost people money; this should be embarrassing for the company so don’t their loyal visitors deserve more explanation than ‘<%= reason %>’?

Being friendly and open is a great way to make your business more popular among visitors and having a sense of humour is great for marketing and PR. But there’s a line to be walked here – and it doesn’t hurt to provide something of an actual apology and explanation too, it’s only professional and these traditional values are still appreciated by a large section of your user base.

Steve Daniels submitted this post on behalf of Razorlight Media. Located in Cincinnati, they offer web design and SEO services to both businesses with and without an online presence.

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