Facebook’s Costly 100 Hours

Five days.

That’s how long it took Facebook to respond to perhaps the greatest crisis in the company’s relatively short life.

This is not a commentary piling on the company for its failure to abide by one of the core principles of crisis management – to respond early and honestly. After all, they totally blew the former and the jury is out on the latter.

But the delay was more than just a strategic mistake. With recriminations flying all around them, users threatening to abandon the platform, senators in high dudgeon over this lapse of security and the company’s stock losing billions in market value, the silence out of Menlo Park was deafening. Surely Zuckerberg would quell the unrest with some well-chosen reassurances at any moment.

But they did not come. Not on day one or two. Not until day five did the company deign to offer an apology and enough contrition to admit that “mistakes” were made.

That delay in putting a face out there – ironic, given the company’s name – was in and of itself a colossal blunder. It’s fair to ask, how could such a thing happen?

I’ve been involved in my share of crises over the years, and what happens behind the scenes in determining how to respond is frequently not pretty. Battle lines are often drawn between PR folks and attorneys. Management can sometimes be diffident, not willing to even acknowledge the scope and breadth of the potential consequences. (Won’t this all just go away on its own?) There is rarely consensus, and the temperature (and tempers) in the room can get downright steamy.

Predictably, what emerges is most often some banal pronouncement replete with an apology, an acknowledgment that mistakes were made and a promise that such errors would not happen again. (If you’re the Trump White House, you can substitute any of those for indignation, recriminations and accusations, but let’s not go there.)

So, pretty standard stuff, which makes it all the more curious why it took more than 100 hours for the company to send its youthful CEO before the cameras.

In my mind, such an extraordinary lack of responsiveness happens when a company is struggling to align its response to its core values.  If you don’t know who you are, if you don’t recognize the essence of what makes your company tick, then you will thrash and brawl to figure out just what it is that you want to say. It’s a moment when your values become most apparent.

But here’s the irony of what happened to Facebook. In LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s podcast, “Masters of Scale,” Zuckerberg explained that the core value of Facebook is – are you ready for it? – “move fast.”  That’s right, the company that took five days to respond to a mega-crisis believes that alacrity, speed, velocity is its most important value.

Here’s how he explains it:

“My whole theory on values is that a lot of organizations have values that don’t mean very much – because they’re just table stakes, things like ‘Be honest.’  Of course, you’re going to be honest!  That’s not an option – you’re not giving up anything to be honest, that’s an automatic.  That shouldn’t be a defining principle of the company, that should be a principle of every company. So ‘move fast’ I think is interesting because you actually have to be willing to give something up to get it. And the question is, what are you willing to give up?”

While Facebook failed to “move fast,” it nonetheless gave up a great deal. The lost market value may return at some point. But what it lost in customer confidence and trust may take much longer.

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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