Friday, March 23, 2018

Crisis Management at Facebook

Facebook executives have received a great deal of criticism for their delayed public response regarding the "Cambridge Analytica" crisis.  CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg did not make any public statements regarding the situation for four days. Numerous public relations and crisis management experts have criticized top management for the lack of communication.  When executives began to speak publicly about the situation, the criticism did not subside.  Journalists, analysts, and customers demanded more information from the organization. Josh Constine at Tech Crunch wrote the following:

What’s missing from this response is any indication why Facebook didn’t do more to enforce its policy prohibiting apps from sharing user data, or why it took Cambridge Analytica at their word when they said they deleted the data without proper investigation. Or a straight-forward apology. Facebook is still playing the victim here.

Writing in the Washington Post, reporters Elizabeth Dwoskin, Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg revealed that Facebook may not have disclosed the full extent of their relationship with the researcher who gave all that data to Cambridge Analytica:

The psychologist who disseminated Facebook user data to an analytics firm working for the Trump campaign had a closer relationship with the social network than it has let on, co-authoring a research paper based on a massive amount of data that Facebook provided to him.

Undoubtedly, many crisis management lessons will be derived from this incident. Most experts will focus on the lengthy delay (four days) before Zuckerberg and Sandberg issued public statements. I think there's a related lesson though, and it has to do with people's expectations of these two executives. Before this scandal, these two business leaders had highly public profiles. They were everywhere - making speeches, participating in interviews, and being profiled in major publications. The downside of maintaining such a public profile is that people will expect much more of you if a crisis occurs. Four days of silence stands out EVEN MORE for these executives than it would for those who kept a very low profile. The lesson is clear: Be aware of what people will expect of you, bsaed on your past behavior. You will face much criticism if you seek publicity when times are good, and then go underground when scandal erupts.


Budd said...

What about the lesson being, don't be a douche? Which both of them are, in essence, money plus entitlement plus hypocrisy. Too much, too soon. If you're like that, don't go public.

I personally think tech has it coming. A lot of terrible people, and power corrupts. "Don't be evil." Check.

Or, to be more academic, you can be fine when you start and then you hire business types and VC's and they give you tutelage on the ways of the world from both above and below, and from a high-minded but naive techie you become a pseudo-sophisticated capitalist. Meanwhile, those who wouldn't be corrupted opt out, like the Woz at Apple, or Lee Felsenstein, whose family I happened to know when I was 4 years old and they were old commies, I suppose. They refuse to participate because they can't massage their values to be in synch with the business world of exploit your advantages. And this is what we get.

End of rant.

Budd Shenkin

Budd said...

To add to my comment, from David Remnick in The New Yorker:

"What we’ve learned from the scandals that have beset Silicon Valley of late is what we learned from the scandals that beset the Catholic Church: a self-protective assumption of righteousness can make it harder to acknowledge and confront patterns of abuse."

Andrew Procca said...

I don't know if there is much new to learn here ... weak values results in weak performance when a crisis hits.

I'm thinking of the comparison Jim Collins made between J&J's response to the Tylenol poisonings and one of their competitors.

What are Facebook's values and did they enable this entire situation?


Michael Roberto said...

J&J keeps getting brought up, but there's a fundamental difference between that crisis and the situations that have transpired at companies such as Facebook, Theranos, Wells Fargo, etc. In J&J's case, the harm occurred to them, not by them. They did not inject the cynanide in those capsules. In all these other cases, the wounds were self-inflicted.

Andrew Procca said...

An excellent perspective!

Although I still wonder if their values were more than espoused if this would have happened.

I enjoy your insights - thank you!

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