Going forward, Facebook will need to be open with what information they can provide and avoid another costly “$50 billion” silence.
#WheresZuck. The trending hashtag around the Cambridge Analytica scandal was not just a way to throw shade at Facebook’s founder. Facebook (FB) was eerily quiet following the media explosion on the issue – and by Facebook I mean Zuckerberg. As the face of Facebook, people noticed – and called out – Zuckerberg for being silent for so long. People love to buy into a “golden child,” but eventually want to tear them down as well, especially these big companies that are assumed to have a certain PR sophistication. Facebook has been in a positive light for so long, adept at PR and could brand themselves as stars. But that atmosphere is over for now.
The days of silence from Zuck and the Facebook team are over. Even without anything concrete to say, people are looking for a statement and want companies to address the public. It is more critical to have an immediate, high-level message that says “We recognize an issue here and are addressing it” to assure stakeholders that some action is being taken. Facebook as an entity is all about sharing and immediacy; it is ironic how slow they were to respond. The user base is all about sharing information (and “dislikes”) quickly, so it is hard for them to understand Facebook’s silence. Silence is not golden, but it can certainly be expensive.
Facebook needs to get ahead of their messaging to assure key stakeholders they are doing something. By communicating with its key audiences in a regular cadence, Facebook can mitigate further damage to its reputation. There are four things the company needs to do to continue managing its messaging strategy:
Monitor and plan. Monitoring all channels may seem obvious to a social media company, but hyper-vigilance is going to be more and more important for Facebook. In order to stay ahead of issues as much as possible, the company has to pulse-check what stakeholders are saying. Then, they can evolve messaging (i.e. what was sufficient this morning may not be this afternoon).
Develop holding statements. Maintain a regular cadence of response through statements and strategic interviews. Being front and center with approved messaging, even reassuring statements that simply acknowledge an issue, will show stakeholders that Facebook is listening and work toward reassuring that action is being taken.
Create active executive plan. Facebook needs to create an agreed upon, active plan in place for Zuckerberg and all executives. This includes who will respond, what the approvals will be needed and using what channels. There cannot be outliers during this situation.
Be visible and transparent. Zuckerberg is the face of Facebook and must continue to be visible and transparent. He needs to be front and center, and immediate, in responding to issues moving forward. By putting himself at the forefront, he can assure the public that Facebook is not just a faceless conglomerate – he’s there for stakeholders.
Whether through its own analytics, PR team or bringing in an outside agency or consultant that is outside of the “Facebook bubble,” the company needs to have a more accurate view on Facebook’s new public and media perception. Currently, they are no longer the media-darling–golden-child. Facebook’s beyond slow reaction coupled with a few of their statements reflect that they are struggling with this new “relationship status.” Facebook needs to reevaluate its own corporate “PR wall” and “settings.”
About the Author: Scott Love is a senior vice president with LPP. He has more than a dozen years of experience establishing successful, innovative communications programs for organizations ranging from startups to large, public, global entities. In particular, he is experienced in strategic planning/messaging, storytelling and crisis communications for corporate reputation management.