Early last year, many of the world's largest brands responded rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic, recognising that the majority of their customers were facing unprecedented professional and personal challenges. Those who were truly customer-centric understood the need to change their payment conditions, for example, to support small and medium enterprises, with others rolling out new platforms to help entrepreneurs develop new digital and online business models. What we saw were brands evolving a more mature language to connect with customers, enabling them to express empathy, understanding and soul.

However, as we come out of the crisis at the end of 2021, we have seen Facebook engulfed in yet another data scandal, in which whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that the social media giant's own internal research revealed the extent to which its services were creating mental health issues for children, and the extent to which its algorithms were contributing to social divisions through encouraging conflict, and therefore more engagement from users.

Facebook is now facing more scrutiny than ever before. This is due to the way in which its actual business model is not transparent to those who use the platform in their daily lives. Platform-based business models can be understood by categorising the way in which people interact with them in three core ways:

1) Core interactions

Relatively simple fundamental interactions which reinforce the core value proposition. Facebook's are liking, sharing, and visualising content.

2) Volume functions

These allow a platform to increase the number of people who use it. Facebook allows people to add friends and see friends of friends.

3) Exchanges of value

The exchange of value sustains the business model of the platform. Glassdoor invites users to share their current salaries in exchange for valuable information about potential new employees.

In the case of Facebook, people have become aware in the last few years of the nature of its business model, and how the exchange of value actually operates, in other words, how Facebook mines and exploits the vast quantity of personal data it collects.

The pandemic could have been an incredible opportunity for Facebook to restore faith in its millions of users who have lost trust in its ability to protect their personal data. With research showing that many people are now changing their relationship with the social media platform, by either taking extended breaks or reducing their time on it, there are three key steps that business leaders wishing to avoid the same mistakes can take in order to grow sustainably through developing platform-based business models.

The first step is to start to transform your culture through the introduction of the five universal human values of peace, truth, love, righteousness and non-violence. These values are universal - for millennia they have been seen across many different cultural traditions as the highest expression of humanity. Authentic transformation can only truly happen when they are fully manifested in our organisations and therefore fully lived.

The second is to develop what we term ‘elevated value propositions'. An elevated value proposition is a way of discovering new and innovative forms of value for customers that also solve our most pressing social and environmental challenges in a manner, which integrates universal human values with an organisation's corporate values, strategy and platform architectures. They are developed through implementing a design process which starts by expanding the definition of customer to include the voice of all stakeholders who will be impacted by the value proposition.

Having created an elevated value proposition, the third step is to then design solutions which integrate digital platforms, artificial intelligence and other deep technologies which can then be tested and iterated until a breakthrough solution is found. By including the voice of all stakeholders in the design process, any new platform-based business models will naturally be able to offer core interactions and growth functions that represent a fair and just exchange of value being offered. 

We define sustainability as the quality of our relationships. When leaders introduce universal human values into their organisations, they are able to develop long-term and sustainable relationships with existing and new customers, enabled by digital platforms and innovative new business models. In this way, organisations can embrace deep technologies to elevate their value propositions, scale their operations and amplify their impact authentically and through avoiding the challenges and public outcry that Facebook is now facing.

Maria Moraes Robinson is the co-author of Deep Tech and the Amplified Organisation and the CEO (Brazil) of business consultancy Holonomics