It’s Friday! And, no matter how intense your work week was, we’re willing to bet that Mark Zuckerberg had it harder.
Over the course of two days this week, Zuckerberg testified for 10 hours before the House and the Senate, answering 600 questions about whether there should be more regulations on his company (which would set the tone for social media in general), whether Facebook censors some content and how much damage to the American democratic process was done via Russia’s use of the social network.
Our team did a water cooler analysis of Zuckerberg’s testimony and, from a PR perspective, we thought he did pretty well.
- He led with an apology and accepted accountability
- He was well-prepared
- He stuck to his talking points
- He dressed the part (For some, the biggest shocker of the entire two days was that he abandoned his trademark hoodie for what NYT fashion critic Vanessa Friedman calls an “I’m sorry” suit).
Zuckerberg did one other thing from the crisis communications playbook that had more mixed results. He said that he would have to get back to the lawmakers on more than 20 different questions.
This is a million times better than a “no comment” response, and it’s something we advise our clients to do if they are unable to satisfactorily respond to a reporter’s question in the moment. But in the case of Zuckerberg, it’s unlikely (and irresponsible) that he’d be unable to answer such questions as the number of fake accounts that the social network has removed, or whether any of his employees ever worked with Cambridge Analytica to assist the Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election.
As the founder and CEO of Facebook, the buck stops with Zuckerberg, and we believe it was a tactical error for an executive whose integrity is already generally perceived as a bit…flexible to appear disingenuous in front of a Congressional hearing.
Zuckerberg probably won’t be significantly damaged by this (after all, he handled a lot of it well). And, although the company’s stock has dipped about 15 percent since the Cambridge Analytica bombshell, Facebook isn’t going anywhere soon either. But it is a good reminder that Zuckerberg is no longer a whiz kid but a powerful CEO that must be held accountable for his company, and that social media companies also need to enter a new phase of accountability and good digital citizenship.