Facebook has been in the news a lot lately in a climate increasingly concerned about both privacy and “fake news.” Pundits are pointing to Facebook’s woes as fodder for understanding about the types of leadership foibles that can lead a company down a slippery slope from a public sentiment standpoint.
What did they do? Facebook’s missteps fall into two camps: looking the other way as Russian hackers attempted to impact the presidential election, failing to protect user data from attempts from Cambridge Analytics to profile American voters. And, of course, after the fact, it failed to ‘fess up.
The New York Times has been hot on the heels of the massive social media powerhouse, with investigations revealing “how Facebook fought back against its critics: with delays, denials and a full-bore campaign in Washington.”
The situation shows a shocking failure of transparency from a company that is founded on wide open communications. An attempt to cover up actions that are now coming to light is, perhaps, surprising from a leader that more than anyone should surely have known how difficult it is to cover anything up in an era of digital communication. Yet, cover up is seemingly what the company and its leaders attempted to do. They failed.
Spreading the Leadership
Chief Executive Contributor, Dan Bigman, points to one potential reason why they failed: too much power at the top. Bigman says: “A CEO having total, imperial control over a public company is a really, really terrible idea.” In fact, Bigman says: “Business, when played best, is a team sport.” Despite Zuckerberg’s arguable brilliance, one person’s perspective is generally always inadequate from a standpoint of ensuring that all blind spots are considered.
In this case, Bigman says, Facebook failed to take into consideration the opinions of members of their board and executive team and instead, relied on Zuckerberg to call the shots.
It’s a situation that is still playing out and one that holds opportunities for others to learn from.
Facebook is certainly not the first company to attempt to cover up missteps or misdeeds and is likely to not be the last. Still, there are some important takeaways for other companies and their leaders that can be gleaned from this situation. These may seem oversimplified, but could companies really go wrong by:
- Not doing bad things?
- Telling the truth?
- Protecting your people (employees and customers)?
Corporate leaders are wise to watch and learn from this situation as they consider how their own internal communication practices might impact public perceptions—and brand strength.
When “bad things happen” in, or to, your organization, what do you do? What will you do in the future in light of Facebook’s experiences and the impacts on its reputation?