Zuckerberg testimony: How did Facebook’s CEO cope?

By in Blog
On April 12, 2018

Switching off tech PR? PRMoment

The Zuckerberg testimony to the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill wrapped up yesterday. Predictably, the internet went into overdrive dissecting every facet of the Facebook’s supremo’s two days under the political spotlight. Not to mention, Twitter going totally meme-crazy over his every move. More of that later.

As PRs we know that a spokesperson’s responses in a crisis can make or break reputations. You can be sure that Facebook’s PRs have been drilling him to get it right. So how did he do? We asked Lorries Justin and Jackie for feedback:

Justin: Zuck didn’t suck 

„Looking at the Zuckerberg testimony on its own, overall he did a fantastic job from a crisis comms standpoint – particularly on day one. He was articulate, non-combative, and handled the tremendous pressure and scrutiny in a cool, calm, and collected manner. He wasn’t standoffish, and appeared genuine in his responses (despite having a folder of talking points at his fingertips).

There are three main tenets of any crisis comms plan: 1.) accept responsibility, 2.) show you understand why you’re wrong, 3.) promise to take action to do better.

He did all three of these things. I’ve seen some criticism that the Zuckerberg testimony was cold and unemotional, but I disagree. He needed to be factual and straightforward with what happened, and I think he achieved that.

However, this “crisis” is bigger than just the Senate testimony. The broader picture is Facebook didn’t accept responsibility fast enough (nor did they with the fake news that spread on their platform). Plus they tried to scapegoat the academic researcher that sold the data to Cambridge Analytica. Bad move. Facebook also has a reputation for a historically lax attitude toward regulatory oversight and data privacy – despite the lip service often paid to them. I think this hearing was an opportunity for Zuck to make up for that. He did hit some of the familiar notes during his testimony, so whether he’ll actually take these steps remains to be seen.“

Jackie: Didn’t Like it as much 

„To Justin’s point, he did really well considering the circumstances. It was clear he was prepared and knew what points he needed to make, but at times he was a little scripted. He repeated the same arguments in certain cases, and he’s being criticized by some media outlets for not really answering the questions at hand (i.e. Vox).

A photojournalist even captured two pages of Zuckerberg’s notes. While there were some helpful talking points for tough questions, did the CEO of one the world’s biggest companies really need to be reminded to say his service was free? To some degree, you need to trust that your spokespeople can handle the basics.

In my opinion, he was set up to nicely to convey his points. But, had more of the senators pressed a little harder, he wouldn’t have been able to lean on some of the high-level messages he was relying on.

Zuckerberg continued his strategy of deflecting questions and downplaying what Facebook does, but his (hopefully? presumably?) feigned ignorance of the core technology that made Facebook into the business it is simply doesn’t hold water

The overall impression I got was that, for all Zuck’s assurances that targeted advertising is “aligned” with Facebook’s “social mission”, the company has no interest in the general public actually knowing and understanding the extent of its ability to track users and amass data profiles of them.“

Zuckerberg testimony: Senator silly season

Regardless of how we think he coped and putting aside Facebook’s obvious failings, you’ve got to hand it to him for managing to keep a straight face during some of those questions. Some of our favourites included:

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R): “How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?” After blinking dumbfounded for a few seconds, Zuck simply answered, „Senator we run ads.“

„Is Twitter the same as what you do?“ Asked South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham (R) (…presumably in between updating his MySpace page.) There were some ‘overlaps’, Zuckerberg responded.

And with data being stolen from millions of members worldwide as part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Missouri Representative, Billy Long (R) got to the key question on everyone’s lips: „What was Facemash and is it still up and running?“ The ‘prank’ forerunner to Facebook (which Zuckerberg set up in his dorm to rank how ‘hot’ girls were) is now closed Zuckerberg informed him. Phew.

How did you think Zuckerberg handled it? Let us know at hello@rlyl.com

In the meantime, back to those memes….

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