Can Facebook Recover The Face It Lost?

Brand bait and switch triggers disappointment, but–even worse–bait and betrayal triggers retaliation. Does facebook need a facelift now that it has lost so much face? I don’t think a facelift will do. Facebook needs a makeover of its mission and values and then a do over. How did facebook get into so much difficulty? It was derailed by hubris, thirst for power and greed.

Can Facebook Recover The Face It Lost?
Can hubris turn to humility?

Does Facebook need a facelift now that it has lost so much face?


I don’t think a facelift will do. Facebook needs a makeover of its mission and values and then a do over.

How did Facebook get into so much trouble?

It was derailed by hubris, thirst for power, and greed.

It’s not just that Facebook got too big for its britches, it’s that: a) its mission was corrupted by it’s “real” core values; b) it betrayed its members/users; c) it underestimated the power of betrayal to turn people off and against you.

Its mission was corrupted by current “real” core values

Facebook’s original mission back to its roots at Harvard with Zuckerberg et al was, “Let’s build a community where people can connect, stay in contact and build relationships with their friends and find out who the hot chicks are.” That was a terrific mission because even as technology has provided a means to connect with our friends there wasn’t a very successful or scalable site on the web that was both dedicated to connectedness and could execute it in a scalable fashion.


As the numbers of members/users increased exponentially, it attracted the attention of Wall Street, which couldn’t care less about connectedness. They saw a potential gold mine. The elephant in the room that has been hinting for years of the risk of the path facebook was on was all but screaming, “My community is not your market!”

What finally came out with the IPO was the realization that Facebook’s brand, promise, and pledge had been corrupted by hubris (“we can do anything we want because we’re Facebook” and” we don’t have to wear suits to Wall Street”), thirst for power (“I am the king of the world!), and greed (“Do you know how much money and ROI we can make from Facebook?”). The unstated new mission was corrupted by its corrupted values and is not spoken but is clearly: “We will help (a.k.a. use) you to build a connection and community with your friends… and then we will mine their information and offer the “deep pocketed” companies to advertise to and sell the heck out of them.”

It betrayed its members/users

Its community didn’t just feel a bait and switch which can lead to disappointment, it experienced a bait and betrayal which at the much touted and inflated IPO price made people a la the movie, Network (interesting coincident in title wouldn’t you say), “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” retaliation.

It underestimated the power of betrayal to turn people off and against you

There is a saying that people will forgive and honest mistake, but they will never forgive or forget if you lied to them. Why is being lied to so powerful? When you are lied to in decimates your ability to trust and you immediately look at the liar through the eyes of distrust. To make matters worse, people think just as you can’t be a little pregnant, you can’t be a little liar. So people think, if you’re lying to me about this, then what else are you lying about.


Here is the challenge to Facebook: How do you earn back trust when people feel betrayed by you?

When you betray people you trigger the 4 H’s:

  1. Hurt: Injuring people’s trust hurts and causes fear.
  2. Hate: When as safe as people thought they were in trusting you is as unsafe as they turned out to be, they feel that you have taken a chunk out of them and they hate you for doing so.
  3. Hesitant to trust: When people feel that you are lying to them and that is part of you M.O., they are hesitant to trust you again and have you reinjure them
  4. Holding grudges: People hold onto a grudge as a way to make sure they protect themselves even more from and are even more vigilant about trusting you again.

The 4 H’s respond to the 4 R’s:

  1. Remorse: Hurt doesn’t listen to regret and empty apologies. In fact, the more superficial the apology, the more people believe you are insincere and think you will do it again. Remorse means looking into the eyes and hearts of people you have betrayed and seeing that you broke something in them and that doing that causes you pain.
  2. Restitution: People hate you for taking a chunk out of them at their core and beyond your sincere heartfelt (and it needs to have both) remorse they want a payback. So Facebook needs to come up with what that would be. I don’t think it should be in selling products, I think it has to be something that would cause Facebook pain (you know, the eye for an eye thing).
  3. Rehabilitation: Facebook needs to fend off the siren’s call of being told they are so smart, of becoming too powerful and finally “we’re all going to buy bigger homes, cars, and boats than our parents worked years to achieve” rich. Furthermore, Facebook needs to be seen as liking their new way of resisting all these temptations and like having being given a second chance to become a better and more caring company.
  4. Request forgiveness: People are still likely to hold onto a grudge even after several months of remorse, restitution, and rehabilitation are offered. However, if Facebook can persevere through that negativity and still be committed to these 3 R’s for a year, they have earned the right to request forgiveness. If at that point some people refuse to forgive, the problem switches over to those people being unforgiven rather than Facebook being unforgivable.

A brand is a promise and pledge and people are very sensitive to having you go back on both. On a much more minor level, I have a Usable Insight (a signature feature in all of my books) mailing that I send out. My promise is to share insights that are immediately usable (as I hope the above might be) to help people be happier and more successful in their lives. The list goes to a wide range of people from CEOs to Jane and Joe anybody and to people on nearly every continent. Because of my email blast program I am able to see who has viewed my mailing and how many times they have looked at it. Almost every time I have had the audacity (and naive judgment) to contact any of the recipients, especially those who have downloaded my email more than 25 times, to thank them and ask them what topics they might find useful for me to write about, that person felt violated and unsubscribed. Over time I have gradually slipped in something at the end of the mailing entitled “Shameless Self-Promotion” to notify people of upcoming event, talks, TV, radio, and print appearances. For the most part it hasn’t chased too many people away. My brand is mainly to be of service, and the people I serve are very sensitive to being sold. That is also why I have refused to have companies that have approached me advertise on my site.

If Facebook is fortunate enough to have its community give it a second chance, it should be transparent about its mission and values. If it turns out Facebook is unable to offer the 4 R’s above, then at least admit to it. Say your mission and values are to help people build communities of connectedness where big companies find out more about them and then sell to. People might be disappointed, but at least they’ll see that you are telling the truth.

Here is the other opportunity. My Space, are you listening? It may not be too late for you. You might have the chance to do it right and do it pure, it if you want to offer that to the world.


[Image: Flickr user Frederic Poirot]


About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit