Facebook plays the game of trust with one billion users

October 4, 2012

To commemorate its milestone of reaching one billion users, Facebook has released its first ad.

To commemorate its milestone of reaching one billion users, Facebook has released its first ad. Created by Wieden & Kennedy, the ad is what Mark Zuckerberg calls Facebook’s first “brand video [made] to express what our place is on this Earth” and strikes a human and emotional tone. It concludes by emphasizing that we, as people, are not alone and that Facebook helps to ensure this.

Rebecca Van Dyck, Facebook’s head of consumer marketing, explains that "What we're trying to articulate is that we as humans exist to connect, and we at Facebook to help facilitate and enable that process." Yet, while the ad, with its vivid human imagery and bold language, may provide an emotional tug for some, I doubt that sentiment is felt by most because of the ad’s delivery and the role that Facebook now plays in the lives of its users.

In communicating its message of human connection, there’s a level of chest-beating here that may not resonate with consumers. Consider Google’s “Parisian Love” ad, which first appeared during the SuperBowl. The 52-second video follows a series of Google searches chronicling a romance that begins with “study abroad paris france” and ends with “how to assemble a crib.” The ad was a subtle nod to the impact Google has in our lives – and it was powerful. In contrast, the storytelling in Facebook’s ad, which begins with the symbolism of a chair and ends with the vastness of the universe, may take us on a ride that reaches too far. Unfortunately for Facebook, its brand video may be mocked for doing so – memes and parody videos may soon follow.

Furthermore, while a strong argument can be made that Facebook plays a more pivotal and intimate role in our lives, it’s also a more complex relationship. Facebook is still defining itself and its business: monetizing one billion users. Putting aside a disastrous IPO, the Facebook privacy debate has dogged the brand for years now, and it’s complicated its relationship with users.

Many of us likely view the site as a necessary part of our social lives, much like a cell phone or e-mail, but also know that it comes with some costs, like ceding privacy. And through that trade, we still don’t know where Facebook is ultimately going. Witnessing years of modifications to the site since the Fall of 2004, for better or worse, Facebook has pushed the envelope time and again and, in doing so, eliminated barriers to privacy. While ultimately proving to be an often used tool on the site, at first, Facebook’s News Feed terrified many users when it was first introduced. Just this week, the brand has announced that it’s testing paid posts with a small sample of users. If Facebook ultimately decides to make the change universal, then someone could buy attention instead of generating buzz organically – a remarkable shift in the dynamic among users.

The potential for these seismic shifts creates a level of uneasiness in our relationship with Facebook that undoubtedly spawns a lack of trust. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, admits "Every new technology brings fears... Trust is the cornerstone of our business. People will only use Facebook if they trust us.” Facebook has now reached one billion users, but these people don’t necessarily trust the brand – they trust Facebook enough to use it, while remaining wary of its privacy settings.

Facebook is a young company and it should be expected to continue to transform in the future. Yet, given that reality, it’s difficult to see how this video will resonate with a sea of somewhat cautious and untrusting users. Again, Facebook is a part of the lives of one billion people, but before its base is able to take a step back and embrace the beauty of the brand’s achievement in connecting 1/7th of the world’s population, I think most of them want to know where they stand in this complicated relationship.

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