Mike Connell

The Big Question: The Mark Zuckerberg Testimony

By: Mike Connell | April 20, 2018 | 
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Mark Zuckerberg TestimonyThe Mark Zuckerberg testimony.

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Like us, we’re sure you’re seeing various takeaways, awkward moments, and more questions and consternation over what to make of it.

Yes, the testimony discussed the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election, and more generally, the dissemination of disinformation.

Sure, it’s an exercise in crisis communications,

But what does it all mean? What are the takeaways that matter to you? To us?

This week, we couldn’t help but ask:

What are your thoughts regarding the Zuckerberg testimony?

Do Your Homework

One of the biggest lessons to come out of the Mark Zuckerberg testimony is this: if you want to impose regulations on an organization or organizations, it helps to know what they do and how they operate.

The stories that came out in the wake of the hearings should, perhaps, have focused on privacy, protection, how Facebook’s business model and security practices may have to change, and what the organization’s CEO had to say about it all.

And many of them did.

But just as many, if not more, focused on the fact that many people in Congress just don’t get what Mark Zuckerberg, or Facebook, do.

Sending the message that “lawmakers seem confused about what Facebook does—and how to fix it.”

From Carol Prigan:

As many people pointed out in their FB comments, it was shameful how ignorant our elected officials were.

They could have been better prepped by their staffers to ask better questions.

The monopoly question is the one I keep coming back to.

Does FB really have any competition?

I heard an analysis on the radio from someone who knows about monopolies, and Facebook fits the definition in more than one way.

Be Prepared

From Jim Tobin:

Congress thought they’d bring Zuck in for a lashing, but the Members themselves came away looking old and out-of-touch with technology.

Zuckerberg ended up looking smart and patient. Big points for his overall credibility.

Having said that, I don’t think the larger privacy questions will come off the legislative agenda.

When Zuckerberg himself is joined by people like Elon Musk saying that regulation of data is inevitable, Congress will respond. 

The challenge will be for Congress to strike the right balance when they are clearly out of their comfort zone on this issue.

The Mark Zuckerberg Testimony: A Waste of Time

From Shane Carpenter:

He was well-rehearsed but seemed almost robotic to me at times.

Then again his strong suit isn’t speaking so that’s not surprising. He came across as sympathetic but only because those questioning him were completely clueless.

If I’m Facebook, I’m feeling pretty good.

As an individual, I was disappointed in our elected officials.

They were either clueless or grandstanding.

We didn’t learn anything new. It was nothing more than an exercise in scoring political points and was a complete waste of time.

Much of the reason I thought he came off so well is because they were painfully inept.

I watched it thinking, “These people clearly didn’t do their homework.”

I’ve seen Zuck speak before and he puts me to sleep. It’s hard to find the lesson when the competition is so one sided.

It was like watching the Philadelphia Eagles play a bunch of 6th graders who had never heard of football before.

Any surprise the score is 140-0 after the first quarter? Nope…

Editorial aside: Go Eagles. Second editorial aside: Go Bears.

Would You Rather…

John Mose feels Zuckerberg did well, all things considered…

Broadly speaking, I think Mark Zuckerberg did a good job in his testimony to Congress.

He was well-prepared (thanks to the efforts of his able and enormous PR staff) and did the most important thing anyone can do when faced with tough questions related to a controversial topic.

He exhibited his own humanity and worked hard to demonstrate candor and caring. In these situations, is at least as important to connect with your audience as it is to try and convince them.

(Wall Street seems to agree that Zuckerberg accomplished his goal—Facebook stock is up nearly 10 points since the start of the week.)

I will say his testimony reminded me again that it’s much better to face a congressional committee than it is a grand jury or an investigative reporter.

Congressional panels are populated with public figures looking to land a soundbite, not mount a sustained line of questioning.

As a result, it can be easier to deflect and diffuse difficult questions. And it doesn’t hurt that the subject is complicated and (in cases) highly technical.

Zuckerberg clearly had a greater command of the subject than his questioners, some of whom it appeared may not be super-active Facebook users themselves.

How Does “The Facebook” Work, Again?

Truth be told, Gwen Beren feels Congress isn’t alone in their confusion or lack of social media savvy:

As an agency owner, my biggest take away from this week’s events was how little Americans, including the Congressmen and women interviewers, understand how social media actually works.

I’ve seen news story after news story explaining that your data is currency on many platforms, not just Facebook.

This seems like a no-brainer for many marketers, but it helps to bring our target audiences back into perspective.

This brings to mind two questions beyond just making the terms of service clearer:

  1. Will consumers no longer be willing to trade behavioral data for convenience?
  2. With recent algorithm changes wherein Facebook is further decreasing business pages’ reach to followers, will it remain a viable marketing channel as users continue to jump ship?

I hosted a Facebook live discussion where we talked about these changes from a marketing perspective, as well as from a consumer perspective.

Like a Boss

Congress set the tone. They set the agenda. Yet, at the same time, they seemed confused and inconsistent in their questioning.

That’s hard for someone—anyone—to prepare for. How did Zuck measure up?

Like a boss, according to Jodi McLean:

As a CEO, Zuckerberg is setting the standard for leaders.

While he is under scrutiny for appearing unprepared for the hearing and for not knowing the intricacies of his operations, he is currently helping to set a precedent for a fairly unregulated space—how do you prepare for that?

CEOs lead their organization much like a director leads an orchestra.

He can’t be expected to understand the ever-changing intricacies of his daily operations any more than an orchestra conductor knows how to play every instrument; he hires the best talent for each role and guides the collective entity.

And as the leader, he is credited both with the company’s successes and failures.

Zuckerberg openly embraces this pivotal leadership role, assuming onus for the company as a whole.

This is how a CEO should behave in times of crisis, with grace and humility.

The same as a CEO should act in times of victory.

Check out more of Jodi’s thoughts on Zuckerberg and crisis management.

The Mark Zuckerberg Testimony: Meh

Sarah Lafferty wasn’t impressed with the Mark Zuckerberg testimony:

The Senate hearings were super-dull. I didn’t get the impression that either party wanted to be taking part in the exercise.

The House of Rep hearings were a lot more interesting and hard-hitting.

I squirmed a lot in my seat because Zuck was so cold, robotic and, I thought, scared (a small part of me pitied him).

Clearly, his questioners don’t know much about the internet or online advertising, but neither do most people they represent.

This is a big part of the problem.

Compared to Christopher Wylie’s testimony in the UK, Zuck lacked empathy and failed to adjust his explanations for his audience.

He sounded a bit strained, patronizing, and defensive as a result.

The four-minute window for questions didn’t help clear things up.

The Congressman who said something along the lines of “essentially your end-user license sucks” made the best point of the day!

The Facebook Testimony: What’s Next

Regardless of how confused Congress was, or how prepared Zuck and Facebook were, many are, understandably, wondering what happens next.

Stephen Karaolis has some ideas:

Having to answer approximately 600 questions in front of hungry politicians with their own agendas is a nightmare scenario for any crisis PR team.

Their strategy was clear: get through the interview by answering the questions as openly as possible, without revealing any information that Mr. Zuckerberg was either not comfortable answering, or didn’t have the best possible answer on hand.

When either of those situations came up, Zuckerberg was given a blanket statement that could be used in any scenario, “checking with his team.”  

Fair enough, the company is massive and there’s no way to know everything, right?

Who knows.

The reality of the situation is that they got through it. What’s next?

All eyes are on Facebook right now and there’s nowhere to hide. It’s time to put away the Kombucha and ping pong paddles over at HQ and get this fixed.

So how can they do that?

Make a powerful statement. Not through a news release, through an action.

The public needs to see tangible change and this would be a good start.

Outline tangible changes in understandable ways.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was the simplicity of the questioning from the senators, like when Sen. Lindsey Graham asked:

“If I buy a Ford and it doesn’t work well and I don’t like it, I can buy a Chevy. If I’m upset with Facebook, what’s the equivalent product that I can go sign up for?”

Well, that depends on what you’re doing on Facebook, but therein lies the problem.

Most people have only scratched the surface of what Facebook actually does.

This has become way more than liking your nephew’s graduation photo. People need to understand so they can trust.

The best way to do that? Break down the different offerings and changes to said offerings. Explain what has made them safer. Use simple ad campaigns or press interviews via traditional media channels to spread that message.

If you’re not willing to share what the company does with the masses, what does that say?

Switch things up. Has the platform changed its look at all?

I mean, I know Mark Zuckerberg wears basically the same outfit every day and isn’t the most exciting man on earth, but I’d recommend a slight rebrand for the company that shows that things are changing for the better.

The Mark Zuckerberg Testimony: Predictions

What do we think the larger implications of social network usage and data privacy are?

We’ll close the discussion with some insightful predictions from Zach Suchin. What can we expect?

Engagement metrics from major social platforms will fall to the wayside.

The Justice Department will levy anti-trust scrutiny to drive counter-intuitive hyper regulation against media mergers and acquisitions.

Also, the government will not be able to properly keep up in order to regulate the pace of technology, AI development, antitrust violations, FTC oversight of advertisements, etc.

Amazon will license its self-service and pay technology to retailers worldwide, as competitors try to build commensurate tech.

Relevant to the two points above, Amazon has already breached the point where it’s nearly unstoppable as the retail behemoth to end all other retail.

As AR/VR becomes more prevalent, there will be a *young* “anti-immersion” movement that totally shuns these technological developments, in favor of 1990/2000’s connectivity.

To Be Continued…

But wait, there’s more!

Please feel free to follow the Zuckerberg discussion on our Facebook page, or via our Spin Sucks Community (join for free to take part).

The Next Big Q: Subscribe Now?

“We’ve seen that users are more willing to pay if they feel they are getting a great user experience and access to exclusive content,” said Gadi Lahav, head of product at the Financial Times, in reference to a recent research program studying digital paid-for content.

Medium, the online publishing platform started by former Twitter Chairman and CEO, Evan Williams, had a rough start to 2017, with layoffs and a questionable future facing them.

The answer: paid subscriptions.

The paid-content model stirs a lot of emotions. Why pay for content when you can (likely) get it elsewhere for free?

That said, how can publications sustain the quality and volume of their content when they also have to focus on their business.

Some organizations create amazing, relevant, and quality content because, well, PESO model.

Their content and tactics? Driving traffic and conversions to their business offering: where they make money. 

What if they want to make that content their business?

Would you pay for quality content, even if you could find like-minded (possibly inferior) content elsewhere?

Our recent Twitter poll suggests that yes, you would!

But let’s make it official. The next Big Question asks:

Do you support the paid-content model? Would/do you pay for content? Why or why not?

You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative . Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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