Can Facebook's rebrand to Meta help its metaverse vision come true?

Chia-Han Lee, Taipei; Eifeh Strom, DIGITIMES Asia 1

Credit: Meta

Mark Zuckerberg officially announced Facebook has changed its company name to Meta. During the Facebook Connect 2021 conference, Zuckerberg said the new name would better encompass the company's focus on the "metaverse." In the future, the company will view and report performance based on different business natures, one being its application business and the other dedicated to future platform business development.

Zuckerberg emphasized that the name Facebook can no longer encompass the wide scope of the company's businesses. Although social networking sites are still an important part of Meta's future, it also limits the company's product and business development. The brand name Facebook as an application will remain unchanged.

Vice president of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth pointed out that as a product line of Meta, the Oculus brand will be gradually phased out as part of the company brand restructure. Beginning in 2022, Oculus Quest will be renamed Meta Quest. The Oculus app will also be changed to the Meta Quest app.

The Verge previously reported that Facebook might opt for rebranding to separate its social networking platforms from the group's future development. If rebranding is a means to clarify the group's internal businesses or expand business categories, then maybe it was necessary. For example, when Google reorganized to become a company under the holding company Alphabet, the self-driving app Waymo and the health app Fitbit both became independent subsidiaries.

Zuckerberg once said that in the future Facebook would transform from a company of social networking platforms into a metaverse company. In addition, due to the company's recent setting up of an exclusive R&D team and building a 10,000-person metaverse working team in Europe, renaming the company better suits the future direction of the company.

On the other hand, many young people do not use Facebook, believing it is the social platform of the previous generation. As a result, it is possible the company hopes to attract a younger generation of users to join the platform and continue expanding its user base by rebranding.

However, from the outside, it seems that Zuckerberg's decision to rename is related to changing public and regulatory agencies' opinions about the company's poor reputation, particularly the recent series of negative reports on Facebook.

Last month, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen revealed internal documents to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) showing the company prioritized profit over public interest and safety. Haugen believes Facebook should completely reform its products, including raising the minimum age of users on its social networking websites to 18 and over.

Previously, members of the US Congress and interest groups said that sharing photos on social networking platforms could have a negative effect on a child's mental health. As a result, Facebook ceased the development of its Instagram Kids product. Before that, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had called into question the legality and appropriateness of Facebook's purchase of Instagram and the instant messaging platform WhatsApp.

Jim Heininger, founder of Rebranding Experts, which provides rebranding consulting services to companies and organizations, believes that the most effective way for Facebook to solve its negative reputation issues is by making changes and taking steps to reform, not through renaming or rebranding. If the company's business model and business management model do not change, what will changing its name do? If anything, Heininger says changing its name will only increase public distrust.

If content filtering, management of hate and inappropriate speech, and restriction of participation by children on its current social networking platforms cannot be effectively controlled and managed, the metaverse Zuckerberg envisions to build will only continue to spiral further out of control.

In the future, users will not only participate in the metaverse during their leisure time but also during work and regular everyday life. This means there is a higher probability of potentially destructive content. Not only will this impact real life, but it may also even expose the virtual world to risks in the future.

Unless Meta's senior management finally realizes that it is responsible for solving the aforementioned problems, or the company decides to completely swap out the current management for a new one, changing its name and rebranding will not bring about any real change.

Even if it is difficult for the company to change the negative public perception of Facebook and Instagram after the rebranding, it may still be able to avoid spreading those negative views onto other product brands such as WhatsApp and Oculus.

There is also the rather crazy idea that Zuckerberg could get tired of public and congressional questioning and criticism and be like Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and use the name change to unload his position as CEO and put all his energy into his vision of the metaverse.

While that may not happen right now, it is possible it could happen in the next few years. This move is actually one of the most effective ways many experts believe Facebook could use to reverse the negative perceptions people have of the company.