Can Meta ever match the heights of its Facebook heyday?

—Following record losses, job cuts, Zuck’s rumoured cage fight with a rival billionaire, and most recently, a new app to take on Twitter, can Meta mend and march to its former might?—

By Matthew Keegan

It’s not been the best of times for Meta (formerly Facebook) recently. What with the Reality Labs unit that continues to lose billions—it’s reportedly lost more than $21 billion since the beginning of last year—in large part owing to the scaling back of its “metaverse” dream that never really took off. Some would argue it’s a good thing that we were spared more of those legless avatars!

Fast forward to the Threads app, a competitor to Twitter/X that showed initial popularity but has since declined, losing more than half of its users in the weeks following its much-hyped launch.

And then, amid all the ups and downs, there’s been frankly bizarre talk of a cage fight between the two clowns in chief—Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, and his billionaire rival, Tesla/X boss Elon Musk. Though the rumoured cage match is not likely to happen, if there’s any consolation for Zuckerberg given the current woes of Meta, it’s that he was favourite to win the fight, owing to his serious approach to mixed martial arts training. You win some, you lose some.

On a serious note, can Meta recover from the fragmented user landscape, bounce back to match the heights of its Facebook heyday? Will Zuckerberg ever get to resurrect his metaverse dream (sans the legless avatars) or will publicity stunts like the rumoured cage fight ultimately melt a brand into mediocrity?

Campaign turned to five brand and advertising experts to weigh in.

Dave Levett—Managing director, Murmur-Group

No—Meta won’t bounce back and match the heights of its heyday because users’ time was then less fragmented. Facebook used to be one of the only social platforms available, so Facebook caught a larger slice of users’ engagement and maintained a large share of voice across the social stratosphere.

Since then, available time and hours per day has remained static and fixed—yet the number of platforms available for users engagement and time has substantially increased, fragmenting the time available for each platform, Facebook included.

Meta is trying to find new avenues and tech to keep up with an array of social platforms available and ensure they maintain user engagement moving forward. They bought Whatsapp, they created Instagram Reels and Threads (in direct competition and position to TikTok and X respectively), they have the capital and the tech to squash competition—as long as they can do it fast enough.

Other than that, what can Meta do as a brand to stay healthy: win the cage fight!

Jacqueline Alexis Thng—Partner, Prophet

None of Meta’s current challenges were a surprise, as they expected multiple years of $10 billion losses from Reality Labs as part of Mark Zuckerberg’s long term bet on metaverse as the future of the internet. Until the metaverse ecosystem gathers steam, it will be a challenge for Meta to truly turn this business around.

As for the rumoured cage fight, given that fight has been called off, this is a publicity stunt more consistent with Elon Musk’s controversial personality, which I personally feel adds more publicity for X than Meta. The fight stunt does not positively or adversely impact the brands both Elon and Mark own.

To get the Meta brand back on track, it is critical that Meta rethinks its core purpose and proposition. Is it a brand focused on connecting people, businesses and community through its social media platforms? Via its new investments in technology of VR and AI? Or is it, as Ash Jhaveri, vice-president of Reality Labs partnerships, said: “It’s really about the next version of the internet, what can the technology do to connect us, to make us feel more present versus what we can do today, and with an app or a website you can only get so connected. That’s why we’re so invested in the space.”

If it’s about creating that next internet, and hence the huge investments with continued losses, we believe this bolder vision can be a game-changer for Meta in the long term. However, to succeed Meta needs to think like Apple, where the full ecosystem of software, hardware, platforms and users are seamlessly created into a great customer experience.

Ed Booty—Chief strategy officer, Publicis Groupe, APAC

Is there really such a problem at Meta? It has a growing base of over 3.7 billion users—all the more impressive when you consider there are only 3.53 billion 15–64-year-olds on the planet (discounting those in China or without electricity). It generates billions in profit and has a surging share price. This doesn’t look like a business in crisis to me. It has literally never been more popular.

Yes, the metaverse narrative wasn’t brilliantly timed or communicated. The launch of Threads appeared rushed, and it remains only rudimentary. But this is an industry where missteps and “fails” are par for the course, and the collective memory is very short. Google’s litany of missteps (Google+, Glass, Wave and Lively etc) are now seen as colourful footnotes in its story of success.

In the past decade, Facebook/Meta has weathered many high-profile and serious storms and has emerged largely unscathed. So by comparison, a theoretical scrap between billionaires looks pretty inconsequential (and more than a bit juvenile).

The inevitable ticking timebomb for Meta is a new generation who increasingly lean towards competitor products (BeReal, TikTok, SnapChat et al.). Instagram may still have some following with this audience, but how to credibly win them over against this new competitive set is surely the looming multi-gazillion dollar question.

To continue to compete and grow, Meta—or at least one of its brands—now needs to establish a clear proposition and product that will bring something fresh to the party.

Martin Roll—Business and brand strategist, author, Asian Brand Strategy

I believe that the Meta brand has potential and that Mark Zuckerberg can enhance the brand equity. Meta has the resources and expertise to diversify its revenue streams beyond advertising, potentially entering industries like e-commerce, digital payments, and virtual goods, which could reduce its reliance on a single revenue source.

While the initial hype around the metaverse has tempered, it remains a significant opportunity for Meta. If the company can successfully navigate this emerging space and create compelling, immersive experiences, it could drive growth.

Meta has a deep talent pool and substantial financial resources, which can be harnessed for innovation and strategic investments in areas like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality.

Furthermore, Meta has a history of adapting to changing trends and user preferences. This adaptability could enable the company to pivot effectively in response to evolving market dynamics.

However, it will require strategic decision-making, strong innovation, and a strong focus on user satisfaction and ethical practices to secure a positive long-term outlook for Meta.

Danny Molyneux—Chief strategy officer, Claxon

Rebounding to Facebook’s previous heights is a challenge, but with strategic adjustments and innovation, Meta could regain momentum. Adaptation, agility and addressing ever changing user needs will be crucial to restore its past glory. Industry statistics across all Meta platforms indicate consistent quarterly growth in daily active users. The pivotal factor for Meta’s prospective triumph lies in integrating its platforms whilst keeping its users active and engaged.

Publicity stunts like the proposed cage fight between Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and X’s Elon Musk will always generate headlines, but their impact on the brand is mixed. While they garner attention, they can also risk diluting the brand’s professional image and diverting focus from core goals. Success hinges on “striking” a balance between attention-grabbing tactics and maintaining brand integrity.

Meta can ensure brand vitality by fostering innovation, but more importantly nurturing user trust through robust privacy measures, embracing transparent communication, and consistently adapting to evolving trends and user needs.

This story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Top Photo: Getty Images