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The Dangers of Social Media Success:

How to overload your server with Twitter traffic.

social media marketing successNot all problems are created equal. Last week our brand new Auckland-based server crashed. Normally this would be a bad thing, especially for a small kiwi IT company, but the team at IT Itch (especially the social media marketing team) are still grinning like Cheshire cats from achieving the feat.

You see, our server didn’t crash from dodgy hardware or from programming errors. No, no, no. Nor did it crash from incorrect configuration. Our IT geeks had recently huddled into a chrysalis in a trance-like state for days on end, configuring a new server codenamed “Butterfly”. When the boffins resurfaced, they proclaimed:


“I am with much ram, which I shall now birth”

and Butterfly spread her wings for the first time and began the task of connecting us to the world wide web.

But just days into Butterfly’s life, our social media marketing campaign kicked in. A post on our website was carefully planned, created and shared with the masses. The goal was to catch the eye of an ‘influencer’ (a person with a large amount of social media followers in the IT industry, who tends to be well respected and admired by people).

Success of the social media marketing campaign would be measured by the amount of traffic generated (as a small kiwi company, there are still lots of people that haven’t heard of us). Also, because we have an e-commerce website, we would measure conversions (the amount of people that buy products or services or make a sales enquiry after visiting our website).

Lo and behold the campaign worked. It really worked! Just an hour or so after launching, a targeted ‘influencer’ re-tweeted our post to his almost 300,000 followers on Twitter. Normally you can expect about 6% of followers to click on a tweeted link. However, the time of the day and the day of the week and numerous other variables cause variation. Also, some influencers are more influential than others, with a much higher click-through rate.

With this campaign, we inadvertently walked into a perfect storm – just minutes after getting a re-tweet from our influencer, Butterfly crashed. Why? Because there was an enormous spike in traffic within a very short time. It seems that thousands of people clicked the link to our post at EXACTLY the same time (the cool feature of twitter is its instantaneous nature). We had hit on an influencer with and extremely high conversion rate and with a very large number of his followers on-line at the time he tweeted us.

Imagine 40,000 cars all trying to make a left turn into Queen Street at exactly the same time – a crash is bound to happen, and this is what Butterfly had to deal with. So while Butterfly had been designed to cope with large amounts of traffic (we’ve been growing pretty fast and traffic volume was one of the reasons for server upgrade in the first place), no one could have expected or planned for such a scenario.

But don’t despair. Our newfangled emergency response kit was ripped out of the packaging and deployed within seconds of the crash. Our IT server engineers rescued Butterfly and got her wings flapping again in less than 7 minutes. Our social media marketing team began to grin when they heard what happened and have been grinning from ear-to-ear ever since.We were still getting a large flow of traffic from Twitter a week after the campaing and conversions have been good.

If you would like to crash your server from extreme traffic, get in touch with our social media marketing team (we’re the only ones that know how to do it). Oh, and don’t forget to host your website on one of our servers so we can fix it for you when it does!



Note: None of our web hosting clients were affected because we don’t host any of our clients sites on Butterfly, we don’t even host any in the same data centre. This ensures that if an asteroid hits the data centre, our customers will at least be able to get to our website and lodge a support ticket.