After one of the most publicised re-brands in history, as Facebook changes its name to ‘Meta,’ we look at the reaction in the media and the marketplace, and the issues for the company going forward.
‘Meta’ … ?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at Connect 2021 last week that the company had brought together its apps and technologies under the new company brand name of ‘Meta’. It was explained that the re-branded “Social Technology Company” had changed its name to Meta because it is short for ‘metaverse,’ which is Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of the platform.
What Is ‘Metaverse’?
Currently more of a concept than a (virtual) reality, Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as “even more immersive – an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.” He went on to explain that “the defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place. Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology”, and that “In the metaverse, you’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine — get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create — as well as completely new experiences that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today”.
Wave of Criticism
Inevitably, Facebook’s announcement led to a wave of criticism online including:
– U.S. lawmaker Alexandria -Ocasio Cortez Tweeting “Meta as in ‘we are a cancer to democracy metastasizing into a global surveillance and propaganda machine for boosting authoritarian regimes and destroying civil society’… for profit!”
– Criticism that the timing may be a step for the company to distance itself from recent controversy.
– Former Biden White House adviser, Andy Slavitt, Tweeting “Meta accomplishes only one thing. It allows Mark Zuckerberg to say he’s not the CEO of Facebook. He will now do less controversial things like build a new virtual universe where he can be king. While running Facebook.”
– Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president of Meta for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Faced some tough interviews and accusations that (as highlighted by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower, Frances Haugen) the company is putting profit before people, not addressing alleged issues about the safety of young users (Facebook and Instagram). For example, Frances Haugen claimed that Facebook was “unquestionably” making online hate worse, and told UK MPs that safety teams were under-resourced, leading to “Facebook has been unwilling to accept even little slivers of profit being sacrificed for safety” and being “more dangerous than other forms of social media”.
Sounds Like Hebrew Word For ‘Dead’
Whereas the name “Meta” comes from the Greek word meaning “beyond,” the company has faced some criticism from Israel where it has been pointed out that “Meta” sounds like the Hebrew pronunciation of the word for “dead”.
It Could Be Much Worse…
If this is the case, the new name could be joining a long list of famous marketing naming blunders (and urban legends) including:
Nokia’s ‘Lumia’ brand translating to ‘prostitute’ in Spanish.
Apple’s ‘Siri’ personal assistant is pronounced in Japan as “shiri” which translates to ‘buttocks.’
Nintendo’s much ridiculed 2005 decision to name their Touch Dictionary service in South Korea as ‘Touch Dic’.
Facebook has been answering its critics by saying that the platform is being wrongly portrayed as a place that is awash with danger and hate speech. For example, Nicola Mendelson has highlighted how the company is spending £3.6bn this year “on protecting people’s safety, data and their privacy on our platforms”, and that “We make our money from advertising. Advertisers don’t want their ads next to harmful content.”
Mark Zuckerberg has described recent allegations that Instagram harmed teenage mental health as a “coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company”.
So, What IS The Metaverse?
Mark Zuckerberg sees ‘Meta’ as a better way to “encompass” the company’s future direction beyond social media, as it moves more into virtual reality, gaming, and creating its own immersive virtual world where users will become more engaged by and committed to the new different and experiences on offer. There is also the notion that Facebook may want to be seen as trying to set users free from simply being tied to the screen and craving likes and offering some kind of more genuine human experience.
The vision, however, may not be realised for another five years or so and in the meantime, despite the rebrand, it is unlikely to deflect attention away from what many people (including some governments) see as still pressing issues that Facebook may not have convincingly addressed.
Competitively, this is a move to differentiate itself from competitors, dictate and lead in what it sees as the future for social media technology, and prove that a rebrand of this scale can work. For example, Alphabet Inc and Google may still be perceived as a separate parent company and another brand.
What Does This Mean for Your Business?
Some would argue that given the metaverse concept is years away and can be made to sound as brilliant as Facebook (now Meta) wishes is a great way to try and deflect and escape from much of the bad publicity that the company has received recently (e.g., the revelations from whistleblower, Frances Haugen). The announcement, however, appears to have drawn more criticism, stirred up some negative feelings and trust issues about the company, and caused some people to suggest that there are more pressing issues than a re-brand and a future vision i.e., making the platforms (Facebook and Instagram) safe for young users. Facebook/Meta has defended the progress it has made (thanks to AI), has suggested that it is not as bad as it is being portrayed, and is staking its claim as the most forward-thinking of the social media giants. New questions about old issues have now been asked such as : how will this new metaverse be effectively governed? Facebook/Meta has pointed out that it gets much of its revenue from advertising and advertisers would not want to be associated with Facebook if it was as irreputable as some say. The metaverse, however, may present many new and interesting advertising opportunities for companies, thereby potentially making it more profitable for Facebook than the current system. Until we actually see the metaverse it will be difficult to tell how much of a new experience it offers.