Without social media platforms, small businesses lose one of the most important tools to advertise to and communicate with customers.
A massive data outage on October 5 that affected Facebook and its umbrella of apps, including Instagram, Whatsapp, and Messenger, served as an unfortunate reminder of this point. For roughly six hours, thousands of small businesses that use Facebook to reach their customers couldn't access the platform. The outage cost the company an estimated $5 billion, the BBC reported.
In an interview with Inc.'s editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk at the Inc. 5000 Vision Conference on October 19, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg made a promise to small businesses that the company was working hard to ensure such crises wouldn't happen again.
"It's our job to prevent these outages from happening. They are reminders to us--not that we need it, because we see it every day--that your mom's relying on us. And the small businesses that are in this audience today are relying on us," said Sandberg.
Sandberg said that Facebook's engineers have already done a "deep dive" on what caused the outage, which the company has pinned on a network configuration change that happened during routine maintenance of its servers.
"The teams are doing all they can to prevent that from happening again," she said.
The platform recently released its eighth report on the state of small businesses, which found that pandemic continues to take an economic toll in 2021. According to the report, an estimated 18 percent of companies (compared with 24 percent in 2020) remain closed. Nearly 20 percent of women-owned small businesses are shuttered (compared with 16 percent of those owned by men), and businesses owned by people of color were 50 percent more likely to have closed.
Sandberg expressed some optimism for the road ahead. Thirty-three percent of small businesses reported that cash flow problems were top of mind. "[Cash flow problems] might be good news, because as a business is growing is often when you start to have those cash flow problems," she said.
Sandberg noted that for many small businesses, the pandemic accelerated a digital transformation that was already underway. Prior to the pandemic, a third of small businesses in the U.S. had no mobile app or web presence at all. She used the moment to pitch Facebook as the solution for businesses to make that digital transition.
"You're a small-business owner. You are a baker. You are a plumber ... You're not an online tech expert. It's expensive to set up a mobile website, expensive to set up a web presence. So probably the most important thing we do is provide free tools to get small businesses online. In just minutes, you can set up a Facebook presence or an Instagram presence, either as a person or as a small business, and it's free," said Sandberg.
Along with cash flow problems, the report also indicated that 60 percent of small businesses struggled to pay business-related expenses. In a bid to help these businesses, Facebook recently pledged to buy $100 million of outstanding invoices in goods and services.
"I think big tech companies, big companies, anyone with the ability to help, has to help. So we're going to continue building on those. We're going to continue giving out training and we're going to continue to try to be innovative and to find ways to support," she said.