During a recent CNN interview, Mark Zuckerberg was asked whether he will testify before Congress about the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data-theft scandal in which 87 million Facebook customers had their data accessed and used without consent. Zuckerberg's answer?
"I'm happy to do it if it's the right thing to do." He went on to say, "What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge. If that's me, then I am happy to go."
Look, we get it. It's complicated and there are likely thousands of technological wizards at Facebook who are far more knowledgeable on the ins and outs of exactly how Facebook's data was/is being used by people with the wrong agendas. But he's the CEO and face of the company. No one wants to hear from anyone else. He must get up to speed — and fast. Zuckerberg is running the ship and when the ship is in trouble, the captain steps up.
Since that March 21 CNN interview, Zuckerberg has indeed stepped up (whether willingly or forced) and is scheduled to testify before Congress twice this week, which leads back to our point: During a crisis, how the CEO responds is critical from the very beginning.
So what can we learn from Facebook's actions so far?
Respond quickly. There's always something to say. Period. Even while gathering details during a crisis, there are always updates, facts or action steps to share. Zuckerberg was slow to respond. His apology, which only appeared after stock prices plummeted, felt disingenuous and forced, leading to public doubt. In fact, #DeleteFacebook was trending on Twitter in late March. For these folks, the trust was broken.
Admit the mistake. Companies are led by humans and humans make mistakes. In a major crisis, that's hard to swallow, but it's amazing what a little humility and honesty can do. Facebook has faced scrutiny over its privacy policies in the past, but this time, to put it frankly, it's a big damn deal. So, why not admit it and face it head on? Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, has finally started doing this. During an interview with FOX News on April 6, she said, “We know at Facebook that we did not do enough to protect people's data. I'm really sorry for that and Mark is very sorry for that.” Why not say this from the beginning?
Share the plan. Again, Sandberg is leading the way here. She explained this will be a long process, but said Facebook is taking a look at all apps to see what data is being shared and used. They'll also start posting links at the top of a user's page that will allow the user to easily see which apps they've shared information with. And finally, she also explained that Facebook had approximately 10,000 people focused on safety and security at the beginning of this year, and that this number will double by the end of 2018. We hoped all this was happening behind the scenes, and we needed to hear this.
To be fair, Zuckerberg hasn't done it all wrong. He and Sandberg have been out on apology tours across the country over the last few weeks. We're not suggesting he needs to be the only voice, and we're also not suggesting that preparing for media interviews is more important than preparing for his congressional hearings at the moment. However, in the always-on, need-to-know-now world we live in, taking five days to respond to a major data scandal involving 87 million people was too long, and waffling on whether he was the right person to testify before Congress about what's happening at his very own company created too much uncertainty.
How he handles this week's hearings remains to be seen, but it's a sure bet millions will be watching.