COVID-19 has had a huge effect on pretty much every aspect of life. Billions of us have had to adapt to a new way of life that involves spending the majority of the day at home, practising social distancing and generally just keeping away from other people. Despite there being heavy restrictions on our freedoms, we still continue to communicate with our nearest and dearest, even if our only option of doing so is through social media. Many people are unable to visit friends and family because of government restrictions, so they’re turning to platforms like Facebook, or play no download slots, instead of meeting up in person. It’s no surprise really that Facebook’s daily usage is incredibly high indeed – by as much as 70% in some areas – but, a surge in usage isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Lack of Monetisation

Facebook recently released a blog post outlining how it’s keeping its servers reliable during the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. What’s mentioned in the post is that the platform’s messaging and video messaging services especially are being used a lot more than before, as are feed and stories products. While it sounds good for Facebook that people are using these features more, it’s not so good from a business perspective when you look at the bigger picture. 

The main point is that these features aren’t monetised. So, even though they’re being used more, they’re not necessarily generating extra revenue. Furthermore, the platform’s ads business has taken a substantial hit in many countries because of various actions being taken to prevent the spread of the virus. With governments telling people to stay at home, ads for many things such as films, restaurants, holidays and anything involving going outdoors, are practically null and void. Advertisers don’t want to do business with a platform like Facebook if the ad’s not going to work as it should. Therefore, there’s significantly less revenue coming in from ads. Facebook probably won’t generate its usual amount of money from advertising for many months yet. So while on paper it looks good with more people using the platform, the reality is that it’s taking quite a big hit financially.

Adapting in Changing Times

Facebook is certainly not going to give up without a fight. Like many other companies, it’s in the fortunate position of being able to adapt and adjust the way it does things as the virus epidemic continues. With Facebook being a key communication tool for billions around the world, it’s more important than ever during this outbreak that it remains accessible and functional. 

The blog post revealed that Facebook is well-prepared for key events that see a huge spike in usage – New Year is a good example. The platform’s servers are designed to cope with short, temporary events where many millions more people than usual log on and use Facebook in one way or another. Programmers at Facebook have plenty of time to prepare because most of the time, major events that see spikes in usage are annual events that are in the calendar.

There are two aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak that are particularly challenging. 

  • The first is that it’s come out of nowhere, so the programmers have had very little time to formulate an action plan and react. 
  • The second is that it’s ongoing. 

Half the world is on lockdown as of the time of writing – many have already spent weeks stuck at home, and it’s likely that most of us will have to spend a few months, if not longer, at home. So while Facebook can cope with brief periods of increased usage, its servers now have the challenge of dealing with that high level of usage every day for many consecutive months, with no definitive ending in sight. To get around this, social media is adding storage and improving capacity wherever it can. It’s reducing the bit rates for videos to free up some space and constantly monitoring its usage to see where further reductions can be made.

Another key challenge that Facebook is currently facing is that the vast majority of its staff are having to work from home, with many not even able to do that. While the company has vowed to support its employees through the epidemic, the fact remains that it’s not going to have the full team of staff keeping it going for some time yet. The platform has around 45,000 full-time employees, so even if some have to take time off for whatever reason, there are plenty of other employees to cover them. 

The Future of Facebook

So what does the future hold for Facebook amid the COVID-19 epidemic? Right now, it’s clear that the company’s taking a big, sustained hit. Revenue is down, as are staff numbers, and the platform’s having to cope with increased usage while people depend on it to communicate with others. The epidemic has already wiped out a number of smaller and larger businesses. Facebook is so large, widespread and wealthy that COVID-19 is probably not going to destroy it altogether. The company’s definitely taking significant amounts of damage right now, but hopefully this is only short-term.

While the company’s taking a short-term hit, the long-term effects COVID-19 will have on it may actually be good. Right now, loads more people than before are using social networks. Once things start getting back to normal, if Facebook can retain these extra users, it’s on to a winner. This is providing, of course, that the servers are capable of handling a larger number of regular users. As things settle and restrictions are lifted, Facebook will be able to get its ads revenue back to normal. With more users, the platform may even be able to generate more money from ads than ever before. 

Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The company’s been able to adapt and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak as it affects more and more countries. Since people are more reliant on it now than they previously were, once the virus is gone Facebook will no doubt emerge stronger than ever.