Skip to main content

Another day and another negative tech story. At this stage, you can bet that it if its not data breaches or privacy concerns, it will be something else. Big Tech companies promised to change the world—and they did. Just not in the wholly altruistic ways they promised us. In fact, until recently, not many of us would say the world is an entirely better place because of Big Tech.

The irony is that technology, in the eyes of many, has been the true winner of the recent pandemic. Globally, the COVID pandemic upended everything and caused everyone to revisit the global norms that have been the backdrop for business and personal life for much of the last 10 plus years. Online food deliveries, video calling, online gaming and video streaming – the fact that we live in an increasingly digital, interconnected cyber world became more and more apparent.

And yet, its against this background of goodwill that Facebook has found itself in the firing line (again!). The recent news that the company essentially “buried” an internal study that showed the harmful effects of the site and its apps on children, mental health and society has been met with widespread criticism – coupled with, even more damagingly, the company’s seeming unwillingness to address the issues at the risk of affecting profits.

I mean, if they say a picture is worth a thousand words, then this arguably represents a whole thesis!

Now the talk is about rebranding the company, drawing a line under previous activity and focusing on the metaverse (someone over there has maybe been watching too many superhero films during the pandemic!)

No matter what steps are taken, what this situation reiterates (both for Facebook and the wider tech sector) is the importance of communication. Like all areas of business, the basis to company success is on how well an organisation can articulate its vision and purpose; explaining what the problem is they are solving and why they are the best ones to do it. Of course, you need some sort of innovation / service / product to start with, but narrative and storytelling are equally critical.

With technology, especially when the accusations around diversity, bias, monopolisation and impact are never far from the surface, good corporate communications is essential for branding – explaining to your users and the wider world what your actions, associates and product say about you. If these corporate juggernauts are going to earn and keep the trust of consumers, shareholders, and policymakers, they need to take serious strides to change how they’re publicly perceived.

Perhaps the most pressing issues that need addressing are transparency and accountability – what is the business model, how do they specifically make money off of each user and what exactly they do collect from each of us to generate that revenue? And at the same time, what is the accountability in terms of regulations around their power—whether through government policy or just through litigation?

This is something that many tech companies are notoriously bad at communicating; instead, being perceived as faceless, corporate conglomerates. Even those that have a “face” are often seen as too detached from reality to seem relatable (step forward Mark and Jeff). What works, time and time again, is ongoing dialogue to make consumers feel like there are “real” people behind these companies with a focus on making things better and “doing” better.

So let’s take advantage of the well of goodwill built up over the past 18 months (before it runs out). Tech companies were considered the drivers and pioneers of a new digital age, masters of innovation and the heralds of the new century. Oddly enough, much of that potential has either been realised or at least remains true (in theory). But we need to TELL people that. With ever growing public mistrust, threats of regulation and more, the industry needs to tell a better job of selling and positioning itself in the public consciousness. It’s all very well recognising there’s an image problem, but what’s the next step? Communication – that’s what the next step is.