Last week I spent the day speaking to several classes of MBA students at the Wharton School. They’re exceptionally bright and, as we reviewed the top 50 list of the most relevant brands in the U.S., they immediately jumped on the absence of Facebook on the list. This was just days before the Cambridge Analytica connection fully came to light, and these students were challenging the fact that a company as ubiquitous, influential and powerful as Facebook was not one of the most relevant brands on the list.

The answer is simple: Trust.

For its many strengths, Facebook scores critically low on dimensions related to trust.

Why Wasn’t Facebook Listed on the Prophet Brand Relevance Index™?

We know this because we measure it. Each year, we ask thousands of consumers around the world to evaluate hundreds for brands on a 16-point Prophet Brand Relevance IndexTM, a metric that strongly correlates to revenue and profit growth and is more predictive of these outcomes than NPS.

These data reveal that even before the Cambridge Analytica crisis wiped out $60b in market cap and put Facebook on high alert, consumers struggled to trust the social network. In fact, consumers who say they don’t trust Facebook are nearly equal to those that do – the brand only received an 8% net trust score in our study.

For reference, Apple, the most relevant brand on the planet, received a net trust score (those that trust minus those that don’t) of 56.3%. Amazon was even higher.  Pinterest, Spotify, PayPal and many other data-driven, socially-enabled network brands scored similarly. In fact, on the issue of Trust, Facebook ranks 294th with U.S. consumers on our list of the 300 most relevant brands. It’s even less trusted overseas.

Consumers recognize Facebook’s strengths, giving it high scores for being “pervasively innovative” and “ruthlessly pragmatic.”  And it’s massive with over 2 billion people globally that tap the network every month. But what happens if the trust scores plunge into net negative territory?

Consumers were already unsure if they trust Facebook. Now that that fear is being amplified through a much bigger, scarier story of Cambridge Analytica, congressional testimonies, election tampering, and special counsels, Facebook’s trust crisis could turn into a jail break, prompting consumers to share updates, post videos, read news and search content on any number innovative, connected, pragmatic and much more trusted networks.

3 Ways Brands Can Inspire Trust

How can brands convey a sense of trust to their consumers? Here are three key ways, using Facebook as an example:

1. Reveal it. Could Facebook show how a user’s data flows through the Facebook system and where it ends up?

Inspiration: Just as FedEx and UPS have done this for years, apparel manufacturers like Everlane are now using supply-chain transparency to build confidence in product quality and environmental responsibility.

2. Guarantee it. What visible assurances could Facebook put in place to guarantee that a user’s data won’t be used in ways they don’t understand or accept?

Inspiration: After being driven out of the U.S. market on the perception of poor quality, Hyundai used an unprecedented 10-year warranty to address the trust issue head on. Today, they are 7th in U.S. auto sales with a full range that includes the Genesis, a luxury model that can retail for over $70k.

3. Simplify it. Facebook maintains a data policy and user-defined privacy settings. Users often complain that they are hard to find and change frequently.

Inspiration: Facebook employs some of the best UX designers in the world and consumers give it credit for strong user experience. But perhaps Facebook could take off-line inspiration from Staples and it’s “easy” positioning to radically simplify the process of setting preferences and maintaining control.

Final Thoughts

Facebook isn’t going anywhere. It’s ubiquitous, full of brilliant people, loaded with cash and deeply embedded in people’s lives. But it has a relevance problem anchored in a meaningful lack of trust. Solving for this gap will be likely be the difference between surviving the present crisis or thriving despite it.

Learn more about what it takes for brands to be considered relentlessly relevant, in addition to inspiring trust.

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