From the company that brought you misinformation, privacy issues, bullying and a riptide of societal ills comes Facebook’s latest endeavor, an unapologetic claim to the wide expanse that is the metaverse. There’s been speculation for weeks now that a name change was coming, and likely connected to this ambition. Without stretching too many brain cells, Facebook landed on … Meta.
That’s right, they went with Meta. Like any experienced bully on the playground or entitled oligarch, Facebook marched in and claimed what it wanted, as if wishing it into existence deemed it to be true.
What exactly is Meta meant to signal for the future of the company? Meta means “beyond” in Greek, implying that they’re seeking to go beyond the notion that they are just a social media company and signal a shifted focus to align products and platforms into a connected metaverse experience. According to Zuckerberg, “I’ve been thinking a lot about our identity as we begin this next chapter. Facebook is one of the most used products in the history of the world. It is an iconic social media brand, but increasingly it just doesn’t encompass everything that we do.”
There’s a lot to unpack in that statement alone. The identity is clear—it’s villain. And “doesn’t encompass everything we do”… I think you’ve done enough, Mark.
Some might say more than enough. Please do not do more.
This vision does ladder up to the company’s mission which is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Where it all falls flat is that a name change on its face(book) lacks any substantive commitment to deliver against that mission in an ethically responsibly way. It points to change and vision superficially, focused on the shiny penny ahead, ignoring the toxic well of unclaimed coins it’s not yet properly and responsibly addressed.
Is anyone else terrified that the toxicity Facebook created on a social media platform is going to seep into a more expansive, far-reaching and immersive space? I know I am.
What’s in a name?
In truth, a name is everything and nothing all at once. Your brand name carries a significant amount of weight. Companies spend countless hours thinking of the perfect way to encapsulate exactly what it is they want people to see, hear, remember, feel when presented with their brand name.
Your brand’s identity is artistry when done well and an illusion when executed without integrity.
Think of any brand you know—just hearing or seeing the name will evoke an image, an emotion, a clear perspective and either an affinity to that brand, or lack thereof. How is it that something so powerful could mean nothing?
A name in namesake only, carries no weight at all. You cannot re-brand your way out of a crisis, crisis of conscious or sheer desire to change the channel. Your brand’s identity is artistry when done well and an illusion when executed without integrity.
Beware of red flags
If you’re wondering if you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have. Facebook has, on several occasions, looked to sweep its well-documented issues under the rug by shifting attention to category expansion including Portal, Oculus VR and let us not forget the cringe-y proposal of an Instagram for Kids.
It’s also gone down the path of focusing on Facebook Groups and Messenger to show how the platform, can in fact, bring people together. The functional and feel-good nature of that work, however, isn’t absolution for wrongdoing and it’s certainly no criticism of the work itself.
It is, however, an intentional choice by Facebook to ask consumers to “look over here” instead of doing what’s right and fixing what’s wrong. You can’t tell people what you want them to hear because it’s what’s good for the bottom line, if what you’re telling people is a false narrative or knowingly causing harm.
What’s at the heart of the issue aka plight of the broken brand
Brand Reputation. It’s what people say about you, how they talk about your brand, your products, the experience and the service you provide. The attempt to solve a reputation issue with a re-brand or new name in no way acknowledges the root of what’s driving the issue in the first place.
Brand Integrity. Doing the right thing is paramount to operating with real integrity. Doing what’s right is often hard, complicated and doesn’t come without a cost.
But if you are a brand that has not just a platform (and in many cases the platform) that people rely on for social connection, information and news, you have an added responsibility to do right and when you abandon that, the implications are massive and can’t be ignored or dismissed.
Brand Perception. This is how your brand is perceived, driven by people’s personal interactions and the chatter surrounding them from other’s experiences with your brand. How a brand shows up in the world, how people talk about that brand goes so much deeper than the name and the ambition attached to it. It’s what makes this name change problematic and misguided—the expectation that perception will change based on this singular choice.
Where does Facebook meta-phorically go from here?
No brand is perfect. Every brand makes mistakes; has its moment in the sun and in the shadows.
But brands, just like people, have a choice in how they handle those mistakes. If you have self-awareness and a sense of responsibility, you own up to your mistakes. If you believe in accountability, you commit to doing better and follow-through with that commitment in a tangible, measurable way. If you do not, you’re writing your own demise, inhibiting any real growth and actively continuing to operate in a way that generates more harm than good.
Facebook can’t wipe away the past by shifting focus to the future. For all the sins committed, the egregious and unethical choices made, there is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing, no sense of contrition—just an unscrupulous desire to take more and more of the proverbial pie. I don’t doubt their intentions in wanting to expand into the metaverse are genuine, but I don’t believe they’ve earned the right to do so, having wreaked enough havoc on the platforms they’re currently responsible for.
In truth it wouldn’t have mattered what name they went with—what matters is how they move forward, the actions they take, the changes they make. They say you can’t build a strong house on a broken foundation and by the looks of this name change, Facebook chose to ignore the foundation and spring for an addition.
Will Meta go beyond expectations? Will this be a tipping point? Or just another sleight of hand … masterful misdirection to paint the illusion they want us to see.