Mistrusting Facebook

Corporate trust is tricky.  It’s pretty clear that a corporation that is tasked with simultaneously protecting customer privacy, building brand loyalty, and pursuing financial growth faces considerable challenges. Sometimes, trust erodes. Today’s case in point: Facebook.

As a recent AP-CNBC poll about Facebook pointed out, users don’t particularly trust the social network. Of the survey’s 1,004 respondents, more than half (59 percent) indicated they have little to no trust that Facebook would maintain the privacy of their information. Compounding this alarming statistic is that 54 percent would not “feel safe at all” buying either products or services via the social networking site.

Still, Facebook continues to grow, which should placate a lot of important stakeholders who recently became investors in the company. Facebook continues to add users, standing at more than 900 million members and has almost doubled in two years from its July 2010 citation of having 500 million users. The excitement of new users to post and highlight their inner-most private moments adds to the allure of being a member of a larger connected community. It also whets investors’ appetites because that kind of personal information is of enormous value to advertisers.

So how will Facebook tend to this sentiment, especially coming on the heels of the company’s IPO? It’s one thing for end-users or customers to be disillusioned with Facebook’s products or services. But when they have outright distrust of the organization, and believe the company will not be faithful with their personal information, then a foundational restoration and communications challenge begins.

And what level of responsibility does the CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have for this perceived breach of trust?  Will he simply overlook these issues as his corporate juggernaut proceeds with dominating the social network landscape? Is the public perception of Zuckerberg, who was satirized in an award-winning film just last year, in part to blame for the low level of confidence users have in his company?

It’s apparent that something needs to be done. The company has a long history of walking a fine line with regard to its privacy policies and has been dinged over the years from privacy advocates and critics. In addition, Facebook has continually tinkered with changes to its terms of service and privacy policy, which further propels users to reconsider their belief and trust in the company.

Zuckerberg and his management team must address this trust issue once the initial IPO noise has calmed down to maintain the halo effect it has created among its fan base. Users loyal to the brand may revisit their commitment to Facebook and prospective members may decide not to engage. This may in turn dramatically affect the commercial aspect of Facebook’s strategy if there are no purchasers of products or services offered on the site.

And then, there would be no friends.

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