Is Meta’s New PR Approach To Deflect From The Sins Of The Past?

Is Meta’s New PR Approach To Deflect From The Sins Of The Past?

Anthony Caruana and Kathryn Van Kuyk (pictured below) are the co-CEOs and co-founders of PR firm Media-Wize. In this guest post, the duo say Zuckerberg’s putting a torrid few years to now deliver a branding masterclass…

For most of the last ten years, Facebook has been like the annoying, drunk uncle you have to invite to a wedding but really don’t want. Sure, it helps us stay in touch with relatives all over the world, engage in local communities and sell our old junk. But it comes at the cost of a massive data mining exercise that, let’s face it, is only moderately adept at serving us with easy visibility of the people we actually care about or advertising that actually interests us. Throw in scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica fiasco and numerous court cases about privacy failures and we have one of the most used and least liked services in the world.

Kathryn Van Kuyk & Anthony Caruana  

Over the last couple of months a new Facebook has started to emerge. It’s like the drunk uncle has pulled back on the beers, bought a new suit and learned some manners. Suddenly, everyone’s talking about the good stuff Facebook is doing. And it’s a masterclass in a classic PR tactic.

Don’t look there, look here!

Meta’s facelift started a few weeks ago with the launch of Threads. Meta saw the dumpster fire that Twitter has become and launched its own version. In simple terms, Threads is like Instagram without the big focus on pictures. It lacks a couple of things that Twitter has, such as hashtags and advertising, and looks like a gentler, less angry version of the bird site.

While there are some privacy concerns – Meta declined to release Threads in the European Union due to that region’s stricter privacy controls – most of the commentary has been positive. And my experience of Threads is that it feels like Twitter did back in the days before extreme political views dominated the internet’s stream of consciousness.

More recently, Meta released Llama 2 – its own Large Language Model (LLM) and made it open source. ChatGPT is the most well known LLM with several others now popping up. But Meta’s approach has been to not only make Llama 2 available but to make its inner workings accessible to anyone and everyone. That means it’s possible to dissect its innards to see how it works.

It’s probably the most transparent thing a software company can do. Even the expected mixed martial arts bout between Meta’s founder Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk draws attention away from the company’s woes.

And while we’re all looking at Threads, Lllama 2 and a prizefight, the focus has shifted from Meta’s ongoing privacy trials and tribulations. It’s given journalists around the world something new, topical and interesting to focus on and this means less time to report on the old Facebook woes. 

The Google fairy remembers everything, so a great way to bury the scandals and make it fade from public consciousness, is to create more focus on something else the brand is doing well. 

Will this strategy work?

The art of deflection has long been a tool in the PR arsenal. Politicians use it with great skill. When asked about anything negative, there’s always a positive answer. High inflation? Look at the cost of living measures we’re putting in place.

In Meta’s case, the challenge is that there have been many years of strong negative sentiment built up. There’s an old saying that it takes just one “oh crap” to cancel out a thousand hoorays. And the launch of Threads and Llama 2 and the MMA fight with Musk are just three hoorays against many years of negative news.

The strategy can work but it’s contingent on Meta continuing to rectify the sins of the past and giving us more reason to trust them. Making a strong public stand against new laws asking for backdoors into services like WhatsApp (another Meta service) would help. And shouting from the rooftops as it further strengthens privacy protections in all its services wouldn’t go astray.

We’ll know more about the success of this strategy in another year – assuming Meta does not commit any further significant privacy mistakes and can add to its portfolio of new, positively received services.

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