Facebook Turning Pandemic Into Branding Gold

Imagine if Facebook had been given the opportunity a year ago -- pre-pandemic -- to host one big graduation ceremony for every student in America. Consider the brand value of effectively serving as the premier sponsor for what many young people and their families consider to be the most significant day of their lives.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Facebook can now make that branding bonanza a reality. On May 15, the tech titan plans to host a virtual graduation ceremony for the entire Class of 2020.

Pulling out all the stops, a commencement address will be given by Oprah, while additional words of wisdom will be shared by Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, and other stars. Miley Cyrus has even signed on to give a special performance of her inspirational anthem, “The Climb.”

Personalizing the experience, the ceremony will acknowledge individual high schools and colleges across the country, including photos and videos of the Class of 2020 and messages from principals and deans.

The ceremony will be streamed on Facebook Watch, while highlights and other related content will be spread across Instagram and Facebook’s flagship app.

Facebook will also be encouraging graduates to host their own virtual graduation ceremonies, and “party” on its platform with the help of features like a virtual graduation hub, custom filters, and its new Messenger Rooms service.

Leading up to the event, Facebook will even try to recreate senior experiences by sharing year-book quotes and portraits, while Instagram will feature a graduation countdown sticker, celebratory sticker pack, new AR effects, and a custom hashtag page for #Graduation2020. 

Of course, Facebook is presenting the initiative as a gift to students and their families. And, for many, it might be experienced as such. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this could be an incredibly valuable branding exercise for the company.

More broadly, the health crisis is shaping up to be hugely beneficial in many ways for Facebook and its fellow tech giants.

From interrupting government probes to skyrocketing usage, The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin does a nice job summarizing how the pandemic is benefiting these companies.

In essence, the pandemic is accelerating and broadening the degree to which people rely on digital platforms, and Facebook is clearly seizing the moment.

From providing critical health information to new c ommunication and entertainment services, the company is simply trying to become indispensable.

With the help of Oprah and other trusted figures, Facebook has also been given a golden opportunity to improve its reputation among consumers, and dampen what (pre-pandemic) many were calling the “techlash.”

Facebook’s response could also improve its standing among policymakers, some of whom had harsh words for the company before the outbreak. At the beginning of the year, for instance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly bashed Facebook for what she described as its “shameful” business practices.

The risk, of course, is that Facebook and other companies overplay their hand, and come to be seen as exploiting the pandemic to their benefit.
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