Almost exactly a year ago I reiterated a great tweetstorm by a tech journalist and writer on the end of Facebook’s growth era. The post is worth reading because the journalist made some excellent points, but the short version is that Facebook’s marketing saturation and inability to monetize further have coincided with a steady stream of public relations disasters stemming from Facebook’s negligence and suspect behavior that goes back more than a decade.
One of the predictions the writer made was the folding of Instagram and WhatsApp into Facebook and the reduction of their presence as separate entities.
Addendum: a few people argue FB can still leverage its other apps (i.e. IG & WhatsApp) for sustained growth despite slowdown/decline on core service. The only problem with that is Facebook is increasingly trying to blend those channels with its core service (e.g. showing FB notifications in Instagram feed, cross posting stories, etc.) The more the company pushes to tie the standalone apps to FB, the higher the likelihood it taints them with the same ill will it has on the core service
One year later, talk about calling it. This writer was referring to mechanical features of Facebook worming their way into Instagram and WhatsApp but in a huge shift, Facebook is adding its name to Instagram and WhatsApp. So Instagram will become “Instagram from Facebook” and WhatsApp is now going to be “WhatsApp from Facebook.”
According to insiders the move has been met with surprise and confusion internally given the relative autonomy with which Instagram and WhatsApp have operated until the past few years. Journalists have had the same confused reactions. The reasoning for why everyone has concluded that this is a bad idea is simple: Facebook as a brand is utterly toxic.
Facebook isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The company still has billions of users, tremendous power and a monolithic influence in tech. That doesn’t change the fact that people simply don’t trust Facebook, which as a social network is asking for a lot of trust.
A recent poll indicated that more than 60% of Americans don’t trust their personal data with Facebook compared to 28% of Americans not trusting Amazon with their data and 35% of Americans not trusting the federal government itself with their data. There’s a reason that any Facebook oriented project inspires immediate and well deserved cynicism and scorn.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal seems to have struck a particular nerve given that Facebook is having trouble recruiting interns. Facebook candidates are asking much tougher questions about the company’s approach to privacy and I can’t imagine recruiters are able to answer them.
That’s why this decision is so perplexing. A major part of why Instagram and WhatsApp have thrived is that they don’t have the toxicity associated with Facebook’s brand.
It’s altogether not too surprising. Facebook hasn’t been shy about exerting its authority over two of its major acquisitions. Instagram cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger have both since quit the company last year after months of alleged tensions with Facebook’s leadership finally boiled over. I’ve already given some thoughts on the messy split between Facebook and WhatsApp over Facebook seeking to aggressively monetize the originally ad-free platform.
Even so, Facebook boldly declaring its ownership over its subsidiaries represents a new level beyond meddling in the companies internally and it could have very real consequences. While it may not stop WhatsApp or Instagram users from actually using their respective apps, devaluing your brand is never a good idea.
Some have suggested that this is a way to consolidate Facebook internally as it faces calls to break up the company from major political candidates. Except the Verge also aptly points out that the FTC is currently examining whether Facebook’s many acquisitions were made with the goal of squashing competition. Putting your name on two of the biggest purchases you’ve made can only make you look worse if this is the intention.
The original scoop also suggests that this boils down to ego. Mark Zuckerberg genuinely doesn’t seem to think he gets enough credit for the growth of the two companies he acquired.
The first problem is just…come off it, Zuck. You bought two explosively successful companies, and while I don’t doubt the support and infrastructure you provided were helpful to them, Facebook was not the foundation of the success of Instagram or WhatsApp. Both of them provided specific niches that Facebook didn’t and that’s why you bought them.
Even setting that aside, letting your ego dictate potentially major company changes rather than what’s best for brands can only end badly. As Facebook finds itself under increased scrutiny and ever increasing toxicity among a seemingly endless parade of controversies, Instagram and WhatsApp stand to bear some of the consequences now.