Right now, millions--even billions--of people around the world are practicing social distancing in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19. While we all try to keep a physical distance between ourselves and our extended families, friends, and coworkers, we're spending more time than ever on social media.
In fact, in a blog post on Tuesday, Facebook says that usage of its services is up 50 percent in countries currently affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In Italy, where the country has been on lockdown for several weeks, Facebook usage is up 70 percent.
You might think that means business is good for Facebook. Except, with all of those people staying at home, that means they aren't spending money on many of the products and services they normally would. Which, of course, means that the businesses they usually buy from have no customers, which means those companies have no revenue, which means they've started to cancel their digital advertising.
As the world's second-largest advertising platform (after Google), Facebook is especially sensitive to a slowdown in digital ad purchases. Many of its advertisers are small businesses that have been forced to temporarily close their doors due to "stay at home" orders. As a result, Facebook says its business "is being adversely affected like so many others around the world."
In fact, the company went on to point out that many of the ways that people are using Facebook right now don't translate into revenue. That's largely due to the fact that it doesn't sell ads in those spaces:
We don't monetize many of the services where we're seeing increased engagement, and we've seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Facebook's announcement shows that even giant tech companies are feeling the pain associated with the global pandemic and an economic downturn. In reality, a company like Facebook is not going anywhere. Even a slowdown is unlikely to have a long term effect on the company.
Besides, most of Facebook's advertisers are likely to return once consumers start spending money again on things other than toilet paper and take-out. When that happens, small businesses are still going to run ads to attract customers--maybe even more than ever.
Still, it's a stark reminder that no business is immune to what's happening right now. Many companies have said they can't give guidance on their earnings at all since it's impossible to forecast what will happen over the next few weeks--or even months--if the economy is essentially shut down. Facebook is also dealing with the fact that almost its entire workforce is working from home.
The company's response is a good lesson for every business.
"During this emergency, we're doing everything we can to keep our apps fast, stable, and reliable," the company's blog post says. "To help alleviate potential network congestion, we are temporarily reducing bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in certain regions. Lastly, we're conducting testing and further preparing so we can quickly respond to any problems that might arise with our services."
Keeping things "fast, stable, and reliable." That's exactly what you do when you provide a service that more than 2.5 billion people depend on, now more than ever. That's exactly what we expect from the world's largest social media platform. It's also exactly what your team and your customers should be able to expect from you.