Changing its name won’t solve Facebook’s image problems

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Analogies to Google Inc becoming Alphabet abound amid recent speculation that Facebook Inc. is planning to change its name — not the ubiquitous ‘app’, but the corporate wrapper it shares with Instagram, Snapchat, Oculus and others.

A better choice might be Phillip Morris, which, beset by bad press and yearning to cleanse itself of its tobacco stains, renamed the incorporated parent Altria.

Is Facebook looking for an umbrella or a diversion? Possibly both, although given its ongoing troubles, the timing feels slanted towards the latter.

Cambridge Analytica data mining, unchecked spread of election and pandemic-related misinformation, recent revelations and testimony by former employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, a massive self-inflicted tech outage, and the ongoing calls to invoke anti-trust laws the EU and US. I struggle to think of a company more adept at punching itself in the face.

If the rumours are true, colour me unsurprised Zuckerberg wants to unlike the corporate name. It’s a go-to move for companies when the going gets tough. It also rarely works.

A name helps people pick you out of a lineup, over time becoming a marker for what an organisation does and how people think about what it does. In simple terms, do bad things, and you get a bad name.

Names are a social capital you can trade for other things, such as customers and reputation. However, the things that build or destroy that capital come from what you do and how you do it. So unless those things change, a different name will quickly fall to the same stuff.

Facebook Inc. grew out of the social media app. And while acquisitions may have expanded the number of entities involved, the deep imprint of how the corporation operates runs anchored to the founding beliefs of founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Recent reports help frame why Zuckerberg wants to use a new name and muscle his way past the inconvenient truth of how Facebook conducts itself. After bending the world to his reality; apparently, the next stop is the virtual one. Talking to The Verge in July, he said, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company”.

Which is all fine and dandy, except its billions of revenue are as a social media company. Facebook’s reputation is as a social media company. And a new corporate name is unlikely to change that anytime soon. 

Will Metaverse, Horizon or whatever Facebook Inc. chooses escape the fate of Alphabet and Altira, which rarely get mentioned outside of financial markets and related reporting? Time will tell.

Perhaps a better question, should Facebook continue to move into a virtual reality, is can Zuckerberg learn from the actual reality of Facebook’s stumbles and avoid the same mistakes in the future?

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