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Facebook proposes name change, Southwest backtracks on vaccine mandates, and Zillow blames supply chain home-buying freeze

Also: GE, Union Pacific and others announce vaccine mandates, how Facebook’s brand reputation affects user numbers, how personal storytelling offers COVID-19 messaging opportunities, and more.

Hello, communicators:

Big U.S. firms such as General Electric and Union Pacific have announced vaccine mandates for employees in response to President Biden’s Dec. 8 deadline.

Other companies that have announced vaccine mandates for workers include Boeing, IBM, and Raytheon—all federal contractors that fall under Biden’s rules for companies that do business with the federal government. Together with GE and Union Pacific, these companies employ about 300,000 workers.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

“Along with being our best defense against severe Covid-19 illness, vaccines are our best path forward out of the pandemic,” Beth Whited, Union Pacific’s human resources chief, said in a note to staff last week.

It’s proof that the trend on vaccine mandates is going up—and holdouts will face more and more pressure to meet the need as the pandemic threatens to extend into a third year.

Companies that are embracing vaccine mandates aren’t abandoning other efforts to encourage inoculations, either. Union Pacific is offering cash incentives to union workers and vacation time to nonunion employees to incentivize workers to get the jab.

Here are today’s other top stories:

Facebook mulls name change to tout its metaverse push

The social media company is looking to rebrand to align with its future vision and ambitions.

The Verge reported:

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Some see the attempt to rebrand the social media company as a diversion tactic from the raft of scandals that have ensnared its brands in recent months. A Wall Street Journal series has reported on internal documents that show the company has failed to adequately address problems on its platforms—from human trafficking to teen mental health.

The proposed name change has already endured derision on Twitter:

Some also noted that the move was lifted from the Big Tobacco PR playbook:

What you should know: While Facebook hopes that a name change for its parent company will follow in the steps of Google (which changed its parent name to “Alphabet”), its timing alongside current crises paints a different picture.

To complicate matters, Facebook hopes to use the new name to explain its investment in the “metaverse,” a nascent concept that is still largely misunderstood by the general public. While Facebook can hardly be faulted for looking to the future, it will have plenty of time to come up with a new name later down the road. And one would think it would be worth any price to avoid comparisons to the tobacco industry.


SOCIAL BUZZ

CNN’s John King drew attention after sharing his own health situation to express gratitude for co-workers who have been vaccinated. King has multiple sclerosis, which he shared on his network in a clip that was reposted to Twitter:

The moment of candor is a reminder of the power of storytelling and vulnerability in messaging on issues that can be contentious. For employers who are looking to encourage vaccine uptake or push a vaccine mandate, working with employees who are willing to share their personal story about how COVID-19 is affecting them and their family could be a powerful opportunity to create community and display empathy.


MEASURED THOUGHTS

Despite data that shows the decline of Facebook’s brand reputation in recent years, starting with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and continuing to its current woes, users have not quit the platform. The numbers raise a question about the true impact of brand reputation on customers and the bottom line.

 

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The data suggests that marketers still have plenty of incentives to advertise on and invest in Facebook, Instagram and other apps. However, the trend could require action later down the road.

Morning Consult writes:

But given the choice to give up one social media platform — which is exactly what an Oct. 6 survey asked 1,334 Facebook users to do — two Facebook-owned apps were the first to go. Roughly half of users said they’d give up Facebook (30 percent) or Instagram (23 percent), while smaller shares selected Twitter, Snapchat or another service.

If these trends continue, Facebook will soon be looking at a net negative favorability rating among U.S. consumers. At that point, brands will need to rethink their advertising strategy on the platform.

It’s a reminder that corporate reputation and its impact play out over long time periods, and business leaders and communicators should avoid looking to short-term results to understand the full picture of a PR crisis and its ramifications.

Southwest Airlines backtracks on vaccine mandate deadline

While the airline has set a deadline of Nov. 24 for employees to report vaccine status or file a request for an exemption, the company has changed its tune about what will become of workers who miss the deadline. Instead of being put on unpaid leave, workers will be allowed to keep working.

NPR reported:

“While we intend to grant all valid requests for accommodations, in the event a request is not granted, the company will provide adequate time for an employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols,” [spokesperson Brandy King] said.

The Texas-based airline faces competing pressures from federal and state government, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered businesses not to require employees or customers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has also shared reluctance to take a hardline stance on vaccination.

NPR continued:

“We are not going to fire any employees over this,” he told ABC-TV last week. “We are urging all our employees to get vaccinated. If they can’t get vaccinated, we’re urging them to seek an accommodation.”

What you should know: Southwest’s vaccine mandate message is in stark contrast with United Airlines, which has reported immense success with its efforts to require workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Of the Chicago-based airline’s 67,000 employees, 3% have applied for an exemption and 96% have been vaccinated.

Airlines offer an important marker for vaccine messaging, as workplace limitations and industry realities have made the COVID-19 crisis particularly devastating for their business.


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Zillow blames supply chain, labor shortages for buying freeze

The online real estate company had made a big splash when it started buying homes directly from sellers as part of its Zillow Offers program. Now, the company is halting those purchases as it struggles to work through a backlog of inventory.

NPR reported:

“We’re operating within a labor- and supply-constrained economy inside a competitive real estate market, especially in the construction, renovation and closing spaces,” Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

“We have not been exempt from these market and capacity issues and we now have an operational backlog for renovations and closings,” he added.

Why it matters: Businesses are going to have a tough time meeting customer demand in the coming months as the COVID-19 economy struggles to fix supply chain issues. Communicators should take a note from Zillow in how to transparently explain changes that—while unpleasant—are to be expected.

When possible, offer clear timelines for a resumption of your activities, and reassure current customers that they are not forgotten. At the same time, don’t blame workers for the shortfall, even when labor shortages might play a major role in your current problems. Leaders should take responsibility and protect workers from the ire of frustrated customers.

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