Three things Facebook must do to restore trust

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed the notion that personal information acquired from the social media platform may have played a role in swaying public opinion in political campaigns. Just over a year later he faces the possibility of testifying before Congress while trying to regain the trust of advertisers who may not want to be aligned with the brand, and users who are outraged that their privacy was violated.

Facebook has now lost more than $75 billion in value since the data-harvesting revelations, but the damage doesn’t stop there. All told, tech and social platforms like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have lost a combined $278 billion as questions about privacy and data mining undermine trust and credibility.

“Investors have been nervous for months that the growing political backlash against Big Tech would lead to a new wave of regulations or taxes, though they did not have anything specific to attach their fears to. Now they do,” reports the Financial Times.

Once the darling of social media, Facebook now finds itself caught up in the “Big is Bad” American mindset. Popular perception is that larger companies, whether to hit quarterly financial targets, or secure executive bonuses, will ignore public interest, or in Facebook’s case the privacy of its users, to maximize profit.

Food company executives and large ag producers undoubtedly feel a bit like saying, “Welcome to our world.” Recognizing that most Americans have no connection to a farm or food production, the level of skepticism directed at today’s food system – and the demand for transparency within it – are intense. Consumer concerns that large companies and producers will put profit ahead of public interest have inspired increased transparency and greater focus on consumer engagement. This journey continues within the food system as awareness builds around the reality that social license is controlled as much by the public as by government or shareholders.

Business leaders across the spectrum – from food companies to tech giants – sometimes bristle at the suggestion that their freedom to operate is in the hands of stakeholders with no official standing or tie to the company. It’s time to embrace the fact that freedom to operate is based on the ability to maintain public trust as the foundation of social license.

Here are three things Facebook needs to do to restore trust in their brand. They apply broadly to situations in which public trust has been lost:

  1. Accept responsibility. The goal of making the world more connected and open is noble, but the social outrage resulting from privacy violations for commercial interest is justified. Despite losing more than $75 billion in value, Facebook is not the victim. Accept responsibility, and own the mistakes that were made. Publicly embrace the obligation for acceptable levels of privacy.
  2. Be more transparent. Facebook needs to be transparent about the corrective action it’s taking. In a recent interview with Vox, Zuckerberg said it will take “a few years” to fix the problems. Facebook will have to earn the good will of its users and others if it wants that much time to fix the problems. The only way it gets that much good will is to be incredibly transparent about its process. “Trust me, I’ve got this,” won’t work with the level of social outrage generated by their violation of public trust.
  3. Get users involved in the solution. Facebook now has two billion monthly users, a growing number of whom are skeptical about the integrity of the world’s largest social platform. The company needs users to once again become brand ambassadors. Be intentional about engaging users in the dialogue about what needs to be fixed and how to do it. Expectations and acceptable norms will vary across the globe, so create culturally specific user groups to inform your process. The personal data of users is not the only asset. Tap into the intellectual power of the crowd and connect to both find a solution and restore trust in Facebook.

In today’s hyper-connected world, confidence, inspired by the perception of shared values, is increasingly driven by transparency. People today want to be responsible consumers and responsible citizens. They demand greater transparency so they can evaluate if companies share their values and are worthy of trust. This is as true for Facebook as it is for food companies and big companies in virtually any sector.

In an environment where consumers are crowd-sourcing knowledge and expressing their values and social preferences through their purchasing decisions and collective online engagement, trust has become the most valuable intangible asset in any organization. Savvy leaders understand the direct connection between trust and business success. Business leaders who believe trust and social license aren’t tied to their financial success do so at their own risk. In the case of Facebook, the current tab for violating social license is $75 billion and climbing.