Forrester: Facebook rebrand won't alter mistrust and poor reputation

Latest analyst research consumer surveys and findings show Facebook's decision to rebrand its parent company Meta and bet on the metaverse is dependent on its core social media platform's reputation

Facebook vision reflecting entertainment in the future metaverse
Facebook vision reflecting entertainment in the future metaverse

The success of Facebook’s parent company rebrand to Meta and bet on the metaverse all still rely on the trust consumers feel for its core social media business, a leading Forrester analyst says.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced the rebrand to Meta last week, part of a big bold bet on the metaverse as instrumental to the parent company’s future. The social media company’s founder described the metaverse as a social, 3D virtual space where consumers can share immersive experiences with other people in the digital realm. The name, ‘Meta’, was chosen because of its definition ‘beyond’ and connections to a future vision.

“Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can't possibly represent everything we’re doing today, let alone in the future,” Zuckerberg said as he announced the name change and vision. “Over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and identity on what we're building toward.”

The decision and timing of the rebrand, however, has been met with significant scepticism given fresh revelations around Facebook’s harmful effect on society and politics uncovered as part of a fresh tranche of internal documents dubbed the ‘Facebook Papers’. The papers came from former Facebook product manager and now whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who disclosed these to the US Securities and Exchange Commission to prove Facebook leadership has repeatedly and knowingly put the company and its profitability ahead of public good.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the documents show Facebook researchers have repeatedly identified the platform’s ill effects and flaws that have not been fixed, despite multiple congressional hearings, anti-trust measures and regulatory changes, and media revelations. These harmful outcomes stretch from protecting ‘elite’ users from meeting usage best practices, knowledge that Instagram is a toxic environment for many teenage girls, poor and inadequate company responses to drug cartels, human traffickers and racist groups using the platform to pursue illegal ends, a failure to address religious hatred and dangerous political movements on the platform.

Commenting on the rebrand news, Forrester VP and research director, Mike Proulx, said while the name change will help distinguish the parent company from its Facebook social media offering, it doesn’t change the nature of the relationship consumers have with the group as a whole.  

“While it’ll help alleviate confusion by distinguishing Facebook’s parent company from its founding app, a name change doesn’t suddenly erase the systemic issues plaguing the company. If Meta doesn’t address its issues beyond a defensive and superficial altitude, those same issues will occupy the metaverse,” Proulx said.

“The success of Meta’s metaverse strategy all comes down to trust. Forrester found less than half – 41 per cent – of online adults surveyed in the US say they trust Facebook [the company]. In the UK it’s just 26 per cent. If the majority of online adults don’t trust Facebook as a social media company, why would they trust it as a metaverse company?

“Without trust, Meta’s metaverse plans are already at risk.”

Supporting these comments is a Forrester poll undertaken last week of 745 adults across its CommunityVoices Market Research Online Community (MROC) in the US, Canada, and the UK. Across respondents, 86 per cent agreed changing the company name won’t change Facebook’s reputation. What’s more, 88 per cent agreed Facebook should first address its core reputation issues before changing its company name, and 75 per cent disagreed the name change increased their trust in Facebook.

As for views on Facebook becoming a metaverse company, 45 per cent of those polled were neutral on the matter. Forrester suggested this signalled a ‘wait and see’ attitude and signs that many consumers still don’t understand the concept and benefits of a metaverse.

Following the congressional testimony of Haugen and a six-hour global outage that affected Facebook’s apps earlier in the month, Forrester also asked the 1000 respondents to its Consumer Energy Index and Retail Pulse Survey in October for their thoughts around Facebook and the company.

The analyst firm found more than half of US online adults, and nearly half of UK online adults, wanted to see Facebook permanently add ‘read before sharing’ prompts to mitigate the spread of misinformation. Fifty-one per cent of US and 47 per cent of UK respondents also wanted Facebook to remove algorithmic ranking of posts and go back to chronological newsfeeds.

Nearly half of US online adults (47 per cent) and a third of UK online adults (31 per cent) also wanted Facebook to replace its executive leadership. And 43 per cent of US adults and 36 per cent of UK adults surveyed agreed the government should force Facebook to break up into separate companies for each of its apps, a list that includes Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus VR.

To support its metaverse vision, Facebook has earmarked about US$10 billion in investments over the next year. These encompass fresh virtual reality use cases as well as augmented reality innovations, including bringing fresh AR glasses to market.

Credit: Facebook

On the visual brand front, the company has debuted a new logo and colour for the company brand, featuring a blue gradient as a nod to both its Facebook heritage and the 3D movement consumers can expect to experience in a metaverse.  

“I'm excited about what comes next – as we move beyond what's possible today, beyond the constraints of screens, beyond the limits of distance and physics, and towards a future where everyone can be present with each other, create new opportunities and experience new things,” Zuckerberg said.

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