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Will Facebook’s plans for the metaverse impact publishers?

Facebook is changing its name to Meta and with it, the future focus of the company. Meta’s long-term mission will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses. The change moves the company beyond its social media roots, but will its planned move to the metaverse affect publishers?

Takeaways

  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company will be splitting in two. One part of the business will continue to focus on existing apps including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The other, new, part will turn its attention to the development of the metaverse.
  • Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as ‘the next chapter for the internet’ and for Facebook too. While Facebooks’s existing corporate structure will not change, the newly named Meta will report its financial results differently. Starting from Q4 2021, it will report results for two operating segments: Family of Apps and Reality Labs.
  • The ultimate aim for the metaverse, at least as defined in the Meta launch announcement, is the feeling of presence, “like you are right there with another person or in another place.” That would mean being able to be at the office, at a concert with friends, or in your parents’ living room, all virtually.

Industry reaction

Industry reaction to Facebook’s name change and the fresh focus on the metaverse has been mixed. Greg Sterling, VP of market insights, Uberall told The Drum:

Multiple motivations are operating and the way you see the move is a kind of a Rorschach test.

  • Some consider the investment in the metaverse to signal Facebook’s intention to grow beyond its legacy portfolio and build as a technology business. Others see it as a distraction concocted to distance Facebook from the series of scandals that has plagued the business recently.
  • On the positive side, some marketers see Meta, not just as the future for Facebook, but for marketing. Future metaverse success is being seen in terms of rich motivational data and easy access for consumers. Aaron Goldman, CMO at Mediaocean said: 

Just like with mobile over a decade ago, the metaverse represents the next massive opportunity for brands to engage consumers in new ways.

Industry distraction

On the other side of the coin, there is a broad scepticism of the timing of the name-change announcement, coming the week The Facebook Papers exposed more of the company’s decisions to place profit over public good. There have also been questions asked about the lack of detail for a future business model based on underdeveloped virtual reality and a focus on a youth audience is sustainable.

  • Controversy has swirled around Facebook for a long time, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to more recent allegations around inaction on research that suggests elements of the platform cause social harms. Whistleblower evidence suggests negative findings were ignored in favour of developments that delivered to Facebook’s bottom line.
  • Longer term, Meta’s move to the metaverse could highlight a weakening of the former Facebook commitment to advertising, a signal that the future lies in service revenues. That should come as a warning to publishers dependant on any Facebook feature that relies on advertising.
  • During the Meta launch, Zuckerberg made a strong play for younger audiences. But the objective to re-connect with the youth should also raise questions for publishers. Writing on Media Voices, Esther Kezia Thorpe says efforts to replace Facebook’s aging audience with a younger audience in the metaverse are doomed to failure:

Teens simply don’t want to share social media with their parents and grandparents.

The loudest critics of the Meta rebrand point out that it does nothing to address the failings identified in Facebook and Instagram. But also that it is based on a product offering that simply doesn’t exist. Uberall’s Sterling said:

What’s perhaps most striking is that Facebook is now choosing to hook its new brand, Meta, to a product — the metaverse — that is highly uncertain and could take a decade or more to materialize — if at all.

This piece was originally published in Spiny Trends and is re-published with permission. Spiny Trends delivers updates and analysis on the industry news you need to stay on top of if you’re running a media and publishing business. Subscribe to a weekly email roundup here.