In the heart of a scandal that cuts to the very heart of what Facebook does and means in the world, the company is absolutely failing to respond effectively. Mic Wright, co-founder and CEO of the Means Agency, looks at why and what you should do…
Facebook should be used to bad press. The company was formed out of a spiral of negativity at Harvard after Mark Zuckerberg stole pictures that didn’t belong to him to create Facemash, a way of rating fellow students’ attractiveness.
There’s a lot of (Facebook) blue water between that incarnation of Zuck and today’s pseudo-statesman who spent last year on what looked to almost everyone like an exploratory tour of the US states ahead of some future run for the Presidency.
But if Zuck 2024 is ever going to come to pass, the Facebook founder and the many tentacled social media monster that he leads will need to seriously improve their crisis PR.
Right now, a coalition of The Guardian, Channel 4 News and the New York Times is busting open the way Cambridge Analytica weaponised Facebook data for Steve Bannon and, ultimately, the Trump campaign. And Facebook are…
…absolutely screwing up. When Facebook were called to testify before Congress about the election and Russian ad spending, Zuckerberg himself did not appear, sending top lieutenants instead. Now, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal is bubbling over and he’s been silent.
Some Facebook execs have made statements… on Twitter, which have subsequently been deleted. Facebook itself threatened The Guardian with legal action before its story was published and have also tried to pressure Channel 4.
Zuckerberg has yet to publish one of his now infamous personal Facebook posts about the issue, despite committing himself to fixing the company this year (as if that wasn’t already his responsibility as the CEO of a public company). And the whistleblower behind the story? His Facebook and Instagram accounts have been suspended. Nice work, Facebook.
For a company as large and influential as Facebook to be so cack-handed about public relations and handling reputational crises is shocking. This is the product of an arrogant culture, one where Facebook believes it is doing good in the world and those who disagree are simply misguided or worse enemies to be repelled and destroyed.
In a crisis, your company needs to be:
- As transparent as legally possible
- Consistent in your communications across channels
- Willing to put up senior executives who are solid media performers
- Ready to show how you will prevent a repeat of the bad behaviour / failure / problem that is at the heart of the scandal.
You cannot go to ground. You cannot be aggressive and overly defensive. Optics matter. Attacking whistleblowers or claiming, as Facebook has, that something is not a breach because you want to argue about semantics is an extremely bad idea.
Most storms can be weathered in business but deception and dissembling almost always result in legal, business and reputational consequences.
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