From Wall Street to Main Street to Capitol Hill, everyone is mad at Facebook. The company has been under fire since a trove of leaked internal documents shed light on its struggles to prevent real-world harm, from political unrest to teen suicides. Everyone has something to say about Facebook, and almost none of it is good. So now, Mark Zuckerberg would like you to talk about something else.
“Today, we’re seen as a social media company, but in our DNA we are a company that builds technology to connect people,” Zuckerberg said at its Connect conference on Thursday morning, where he unveiled a series of new products and ambitions around the metaverse. “It is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything that we do, to reflect who we are, and what we hope to build.” Then he announced a new name for the company: not Facebook, but Meta.
Facebook is one of the most iconic brands in the world, and it used to suit Zuckerberg just fine. In 2019, he slapped the Facebook name on his company’s other products—Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus—to remind people that Facebook is not just Facebook, but “a family of apps.” But now, Zuckerberg said on Thursday, “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.” The new name is meant to signal that future: one beyond social media, and beyond all the bad news.
Companies tend to rename themselves for a select few reasons. Sometimes a new name reflects new business ambitions, as when Apple released the iPhone and stopped calling itself Apple Computers. Other times, they signal a corporate restructuring, as when Google renamed itself Alphabet; Larry Page became the CEO of Alphabet, not Google, clarifying his leadership beyond just search. Other times, a company seeks to distance itself from a sullied brand, as when cigarette-maker Philip Morris renamed itself Altria in 2001.
Facebook’s rechristening as Meta has some elements of all three. The company wants to define itself as a “metaverse” company, not just a maker of social media products. And Zuckerberg wants more of a hand in those new pursuits, rather than overseeing the Facebook app. It also needs to give itself a way out of the past few years of dunking on Facebook, a name that’s become synonymous with mistrust and skepticism (not to mention conspiracy theories and genocide).
But if the company wants to move beyond years of Facebook backlash, it will need to do more than give itself a new name. “A brand is a sum total of decisions and behaviors expressed in words, actions, naming, graphical elements, digital interactions, and many other elements—not just talk,” says Anaezi Modu, the founder and CEO of Rebrand, which advises companies on brand transformations. If Meta still looks like Facebook, sounds like Facebook, and runs its business like Facebook, then people are still going to see it as Facebook.