Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

 

 As Facebook Turns 10, Zuckerberg Comes of Age

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook turned 10 years old this week, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO of the world’s most successful social networking platform, used that milestone to come of age.

Zuckerberg, the 29-year-old entrepreneur who started Facebook in 2004, has never been much of a media fan. For Facebook’s birthday, however, he participated in several interviews, including NBC’s Today Show and Bloomberg Businessweek. Though he briefly alluded to the early days, he spent the bulk of the interviews speaking about the network’s massive cultural impact and detailing current and future business plans (three-, five-, and ten-year plans, to be exact). The result? He came off as a successful and confident executive at the helm, adroitly steering Facebook into its next decade.

This evolution of his persona is significant both for Zuckerberg, and for Facebook. In the past, he’s been depicted as a brilliant but arrogant smart aleck whose tech prowess eclipsed his business acumen. In recent months, too, media coverage has focused on how Facebook may be losing traction with teenagers, the base on which it was built. These interviews gave Zuckerberg a broad platform to speak directly to multiple stakeholders at what may be a turning point in the company’s young history.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Maturity looks good on him.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The media can offer redemption as well as criticism. Several things conspired to make this a PR success. Zuckerberg’s reluctance to do media has worked in his favor. When he does have something to say, the media listens. He pinned his interviews to Facebook’s 10th birthday, a built-in news hook. And he was clever about the venues he chose: the Today Show speaks to millions of (older) users and potential users, while Bloomberg Businessweek took care of the business side of the Facebook story. It’s a winning combination that artfully conveyed his message: Mark Zuckerberg is a big boy now.

Why Internet.org Can’t Get a “Like”

internetorg Why Internet.org Cant Get a Like

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) to Internet.org and its tech sector backers.

Facebook Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org plan has a seemingly noble purpose: to bring low-cost internet connectivity to the two-thirds of people in the world who don’t have it. It’s a praiseworthy and unassailable plan at first look, given the field-leveling potential it represents for the world’s have-nots. So where’s the love? Not in the business or tech press, that’s certain.

Here’s why: The mobile tech companies backing the initiative with Facebook all stand to profit nicely from the increased global internet usage it envisions. Internet.org’s chief goals are to make mobile connectivity more affordable and data transfer more efficient, while incentivizing businesses to lower the cost of access. Tellingly, the consortium includes handset makers and software companies but as yet no service providers, for whom the business impact is potentially less lucrative.

Defending the plan against attacks that it is self-serving and disingenuous, and its potential benefits dubious, Zuckerberg noted that the disparities created by the so-called Digital Divide could not be “solved through altruism alone” and that any plan needs to be economically sustainable. He acknowledged that Facebook, now at a billion users strong but forever needing more to grow, would “theoretically” benefit even though real profits might be a very long way off. “But I’m willing to make that investment because I think it’s really good for the world,” he said. So can he get a “Like?” Unlikely.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to Zuckerberg and his Internet.org partners, for trying to save the world by helping themselves.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Business and philanthropy don’t mix, so don’t try. As a going concern, if you want to give something back, support a charity or start your own. Zuckerbook & Co. would have encountered less flack if they presented the business case for their plan first and then called out its potential economic and humanitarian upside. Corporate social responsibility is about engendering goodwill, but today’s Internet is more about business than social justice. Given Silicon Valley’s free-market allergy to regulation, its tendency toward conspicuous consumption, and occasional displays of plain disdain for the non-cognoscenti, it’s hard to accept this claim of enlightened self-interest at face value.

Facebook Finally Saves Face

 Facebook Finally Saves Face

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Facebook and their stock.

Facebook’s return to its IPO price is gratifying to investors, as well as to the firms on Wall Street that  set a price of $38 per share. But the comeback was more than just a successful resolution of a key business problem (mobile revenues). It was a case study in PR perseverance.

On May 18, 2012, after a 30-minute delay, the stock opened on NASDAQ and reached a high of 48. That’s where it stalled, and by the close of the first day of trading, finished flat. One month later, FB had fallen to $28, and reached an all time low of $18 at the end of August.

The level of criticism directed at all parties – underwriters, NASDAQ, and the company management – was overwhelming. The Wall Street Journal labeled the deal “a fiasco,” while others invariably referred to the deal as “botched.” Even the New York Stock Exchange publicly called out its rival, suggesting that NASDAQ may have set a “harmful precedent.” Facebook CFO David Ebersman and Morgan Stanley’s tech bankers took the most heat. Assessing the underwriters’ brand reputation, one Wall Street expert wrote: “…Morgan Stanley will take a hit for it, deserved or not. That’s a big break for Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.”

And yet, months later, all that has changed. Media criticism eventually lost steam, and the serious investors who held on to the company’s stock were vindicated over time. (Moreover, the JPM and Goldman reputations did not enjoy a “big break.”)

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Facebook and Morgan Stanley.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t react; just act. Sure, Facebook management might have made more of an effort to embrace Wall Street. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t need to wear a suit and tie during the roadshow, but the hoodie and declarations that the company was “in no rush” to go public may not have sent the right message. But this was all on brand and contributed to Facebook’s business-as-usual unflappability. Given disclosure restrictions, defending Facebook’s pricing and underwriting process after the fact required consistency and patience. Over time, that strategy – which may have been no strategy – paid off.

Three Steps FWD, Two Steps Back?

Screen Shot 2013 05 13 at 7.37.31 PM 150x60 Three Steps FWD, Two Steps Back?Political advocacy group FWD.us was launched last month by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and so far it has run up an impressively depressing string of PR gaffes. As a tax-exempt social welfare organization” (a la Citizens United), it can raise and spend money to promote political and legislative aims virtually unchecked. But the group’s missteps have made it the story instead of its cause and FWD.us now runs the risk of having little influence or gravitas.

Its initial focus was clear: comprehensive immigration reform. As a cause this made perfect sense. It is near and dear to talent-hungry tech firms and backed by deep-pocketed Silicon Valley luminaries including Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer and Bill Gates. The launch augured an auspicious foray into muscle-flexing issues advocacy in Washington.

But things went pear-shaped from the start. An embarrassing leak spoiled its launch, disclosing a seemingly unseemly strategy to promote its agenda via “avenues of distribution” dominated by member companies like Facebook and Yahoo. The leak forced president Joe Green (Zuck’s roommate at Harvard) to apologize. Then, it alienated supporters with a confusing advertising campaign that veered way off-topic, advocating for controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and against Obamacare. FWD.us said the ads sought to create “political cover” for supporters of immigration reform in Congress, but its move prompted progressive organizations to pull ads from Facebook in protest, and two key Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to later withdraw from the group.

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full fiasco) to date for Zuckerberg’s FWD.usfor bungling what should have been a sure-footed start. 

The PR Takeaway: Opening baby steps need to be unambiguous and unassailable. Opening gaffes can sink a new venture, and one misstep can lead to and/or magnify others. Move cautiously and deliberately. Leaks happen, so be mindful of how even internal communications might play in public. If something leaks, get back on message fast – with actions, not words, that spell out your group’s mission and galvanize supporters. This isn’t that hard. If Zuckerberg’s other business had stumbled as much at the outset, he might still be at Harvard studying for finals.

Winklevoss Twins Rewrite Bad PR of Facebook

 Winklevoss Twins Rewrite Bad PR of Facebook

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for the Winklevoss twins.

Whatever happened to Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the alleged co-founders – or inventors, depending on whom you ask – of Facebook? The twins gained unwanted fame during their very public fight against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea for a social network while they were all at Harvard, their protracted battle over who came up with, and thereby owned, Facebook was highlighted in the movie The Social Network. Their legal persistence won them $65 million compensation, but their reputations were seemingly irredeemable.

In the film they were portrayed as handsome, privileged jocks with a fancy pedigree, good connections, and a tendency to whine. They cemented their image as sore losers when they tried to sue Zuckerberg a second time (and failed). They became vaguely comical, and there was more than a hint of Schadenfreude when the media spoke about the Winklevii, as they came to be named.

But now their PR rehabilitation seems to be underway. The twins were featured in The New York Times Sunday Style Section. Key points? They are working hard and out to win, per usual – they competed in Olympic rowing – incubating major investments, including the shopping website Hukkster and a financial data company called Sum Zero through their firm, Winklevoss Capital. Photographed in suits in their Manhattan offices, not in spandex rowing outfits (as with previous PR mishaps), they are presenting a new face to the world.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for the Winklevoss twins. They may have lost the Facebook war, but they could still win the PR Battle.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: For effective PR rehab, close out the past and look to the future.  The NYT Style Section may seem an unlikely forum to turn around a PR image, but given that there is no hard news to announce, this was a clear and sensible choice. Sunday’s feature gave the Winklevii space to clarify lingering issues while pointing forward with plans that have nothing to do with Facebook. What comes next may prove to be of interest as the twins rewrite their PR code.