Finance

New name won’t help Facebook, ‘Zuck’ has to clean up mess

Whistleblowers, an image problem, too much power: these are turbulent times for Zuckerberg’s billion-dollar empire. And then the company also wants to get rid of the Facebook name.

With that possible name change founder and boss Mark Zuckerberg would like less attention for Facebook, the social network that started his business success. That would then be part of the parent company with the new unknown name.

The new name should symbolize Facebook’s ambition to do more than just social media and chat services. “That sounds like rationalization for a name change. But that makes no sense if you don’t get things right first,” says Cees van Riel, Emeritus professor of reputation management at Erasmus University.

Zuckerberg represents pride and shame

If Zuckerberg is looking to move in a different direction by renaming the parent company, it’s a logical step, says trademark expert Paul Moers.

“Then you want to avoid confusion and association with the Facebook brand. But if you want to polish away reputation damage with it, that won’t work for an inch,” says Moers.

Van Riel feels the same way. “Whether he calls the company Rabbit Bread or Facebook, it’s Zuckerberg who represents the pride and shame of the entire company.”

According to him, a quick name change has no effect on the reputation of the brand. “If you do it without the changes in decency and a new product portfolio, it’s a cosmetic change and can’t be taken seriously.”

It can be part of an entire brand change process, says Van Riel. “But a name change without that trajectory is comparable to giving your car a new color. What’s in it also remains the same.”

Change with or without Zuckerberg

Facebook would like to break free from the name Facebook to create space for the other brands: Whatsapp, Instagram, Oculus and the so-called metaverse. According to Zuckerberg, that is where the future of his company lies.

That metaverse is a shared virtual space that combines reality with the virtual world. In the metaverse, for example, people can attend virtual events and chat, but they can also collaborate and meet. It is currently still a vague concept, but if it catches on, Facebook wants to become big in it.

What Facebook wants to do with the metaverse is not comparable to what Facebook as a social medium, says Moers. “That’s why it’s better to give the parent company a different name to avoid confusion. But that doesn’t affect the reputation at all.”

Not the darling anymore

And that reputation could use a careful cleaning. Facebook has long ceased to be Silicon Valley’s darling. From the US to the EU, politicians, regulators and experts believe the company has become too powerful and should be broken up. That noise is getting louder after a former employee leaked internal documents this summer.

This would show that the company time and again prefers profit over the safety of users of its platforms Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram.

And the scandals of recent weeks do little good for the reputation. The company would even postpone new products because of that lousy reputation and must do his best to lack of trust among regulators to win back.

Cleaning up mess

Zuckerberg has to clean up his mess first, says Van Riel. The founder and CEO is the face of the company and responsible for policy. And he has a majority of the voting shares in hands. So if something has to change, it has to come from him.

But he doesn’t seem to have much faith in that. “If you have someone out there who is the soul of the company and shows disdain for ethics and human dignity in congressional hearings, at product launches, then he needs to be replaced,” says Van Riel.

Another face on the buck

If Facebook really wants to change the company, says Van Riel, you have to put Zuckerberg in a lesser position and then adjust the policy.

“Then it becomes more credible. The moment he hits a tree, the problem would be completely different. You don’t wish that on anyone, but then you really get a new face sitting on the buck.”

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