Facebook’s rebrand to Meta was, in part, a PR manoeuvre intended to divert attention away from the damaging implications of the Facebook files leaked by whistleblower Francis Haugen and towards its glossy vision of a future defined by the metaverse. On October 10, 2022, Francis Haugen testified before the US Congress that Facebook put “astronomical profits before people” by allowing the spread of misinformation and content that exacerbated political divides and damaged users’ mental health. On October 25, Ms. Haugen gave similar testimony before the UK Parliament. Facebook’s rebrand to Meta was announced on October 28.
From a PR point of view, dangling a shiny new virtual experience in front of the masses had two logical objectives: to distract attention from Meta’s past controversies, and to build hype for the company’s new direction and product. GlobalData’s social media analytics dashboard shows that the former endeavor failed, and the latter’s success will be short-lived.
How do social media analytics work?
GlobalData’s social media analytics dashboard tracks online conversations of Twitter influencers and popular Reddit channels. The dashboard tracks the sentiment of all social media posts, allowing us to decode positive and negative trends among these conversations.
Meta’s first objective: to distract attention and limit damage
The chart above shows that Meta ultimately failed to divert attention from its past controversies by rebranding.
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The visible spike in both positive and negative posts in October 2021 reflects the explosion of Meta-related media coverage due to the leaked Facebook files and Ms. Haugen’s public appearances and comments.
Before October 2021, and going as far back as January 2020, the number of negative Meta-related posts had always been lower than the number of positive Meta-related posts. After October 2021, the damage wreaked on Meta’s public image by the leaked Facebook files is clear to see—negative posts are consistently more numerous than positive posts. So, Meta has clearly been tarnished in the eyes of the online community in the aftermath of its rebrand.
Meta’s second objective: to generate metaverse hype
Furthermore, this chart suggests that Meta’s success in generating metaverse hype will be short-lived.
There was understandably an eruption of hype for Meta’s metaverse in October 2021, and positive sentiment firmly outweighed the negative. However, between October and December 2021, the difference in the numbers of positive and negative posts relating to Meta’s metaverse steadily diminished—at the expense of the positive ones. In both January and February 2022, the number of negative posts increased compared to the previous month, while the number of positive posts continued to fall. Moreover, although February 2022 has not yet concluded, negative posts have, for now, surpassed positive posts.
The rise in negative posts in January and February 2022 is not solely down to souring consumer appetites for its metaverse. The rise in negative posts relating to Meta’s metaverse in February will be largely bolstered by Meta’s disappointing Q4 results, which revealed that Reality Labs’ VR/AR division spent $3.3 billion developing metaverse technologies while reporting revenues of only $877 million.
The sale of Diem, Meta’s cryptocurrency, may have also contributed to the rise in negative posts in January 2022. However, this cannot be the sole reason because Diem’s sale was announced on January 27. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to attribute the rise in negative posts in January 2022, at least partly, to a growing backlash against Meta’s metaverse.
Meta’s image problem
For now, the overall picture does not look good for Meta. Its early forays into the metaverse have been characterized by a series of mishaps and an analysis of online discussions reveals the result—there is a growing backlash against the company and its metaverse ambitions.