Digital marketing agencies suffer under social media bans

By Uwin Lugoda

Sri Lanka’s businesses small and large have been impacted by the recent  social media  bans due to a lack of digital advertising opportunities. The impact had been particularly felt by the digital advertising companies that maintain social media accounts and conduct digital campaigns for other companies.

The ban covered several social media sites like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Viber, and most recently Twitter, which was only blocked during the most recent ban. These sites are used to run advertising campaigns for several Sri Lankan businesses, and are some of the most important tools when it comes to digital marketing, helping agencies reach a wide variety of clients.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Omnicom Media Group (OMG) Sri Lanka Digital Manager Jason Wijesuriya stated that the company had stopped advertising for all their clients, who are mostly from the finance, real estate, and retail sectors.

According to Wijesuriya, even though most of the users have access to social media through virtual private networks (VPNs), their locations aren’t accurate, making them harder to target through social media campaigns.

“When the first attacks happened on 21 April, we didn’t let any scheduled post go live as well, because we felt it would be insensitive. But now, during these second and third blockages, we still let our published posts go as scheduled, because users that have interacted with our page are still on social media, and still do get notified. But we stopped all advertising.”

Since the attack on Easter Sunday, the tourism sector took a massive hit, with a steep decline in tourist entering the country. The social media bans that followed added on to this by limiting the digital reach of the travel and hospitality sector.

Niranka Perera, CEO at Antyra Solutions, a digital agency that deals mostly in travel and hospitality, stated that things were already slow when the first social media ban took place, since most of them had already stopped advertising for most of their clients after the attack on Easter Sunday.

He explained that since most of the agency’s clients were in the travel and hospitality sector, it was a major blow, and that digital advertising as a whole was being impacted every time a social media ban was in place.

“While most of us use VPNs to access social media, a prominent brand would not want to run advertisements when there’s a social media ban in effect. That also directly had an impact on the bottom line, irrespective of whether or not users were finding their way to social media channels or not.”
The frequent social media bans have affected businesses of all sizes, from companies like Daraz and, to smaller online businesses.

Arimac Head of Digital Marketing and Strategy Eranga Wijesinghe explained that businesses currently relying on e-commerce platforms were the ones that had got heavily hit by the social media ban, since most of these places depended heavily on social media and Google campaigns.

Wijesinghe stated that the companies that were currently advertising would experience low reach, even with the cost for the clicks, reaches, and impressions being high.

“When the incident took place, everyone stopped their campaigns, but since it’s happening continuously, we can’t stop and wait forever.”

Sri Lanka experienced its third social media ban on 13 May following the unrest caused in several areas due to false propaganda posted on social media. This came to pass three weeks after the first social media ban, following the series of suicide bombings that occurred on Easter Sunday.

However, late Friday evening, this social media ban was lifted due to the relatively peaceful atmosphere in the island.