Crisis Management at Facebook

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Facebook executives have received a great deal of criticism for their delayed public response regarding the “Cambridge Analytica” crisis.  CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg did not make any public statements regarding the situation for four days. Numerous public relations and crisis management experts have criticized top management for the lack of communication.  When executives began to speak publicly about the situation, the criticism did not subside.  Journalists, analysts, and customers demanded more information from the organization. Josh Constine at Tech Crunch wrote the following:

What’s missing from this response is any indication why Facebook didn’t do more to enforce its policy prohibiting apps from sharing user data, or why it took Cambridge Analytica at their word when they said they deleted the data without proper investigation. Or a straight-forward apology. Facebook is still playing the victim here.

Writing in the Washington Post, reporters Elizabeth Dwoskin, Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg revealed that Facebook may not have disclosed the full extent of their relationship with the researcher who gave all that data to Cambridge Analytica:

The psychologist who disseminated Facebook user data to an analytics firm working for the Trump campaign had a closer relationship with the social network than it has let on, co-authoring a research paper based on a massive amount of data that Facebook provided to him.

Undoubtedly, many crisis management lessons will be derived from this incident. Most experts will focus on the lengthy delay (four days) before Zuckerberg and Sandberg issued public statements. I think there’s a related lesson though, and it has to do with people’s expectations of these two executives. Before this scandal, these two business leaders had highly public profiles. They were everywhere – making speeches, participating in interviews, and being profiled in major publications. The downside of maintaining such a public profile is that people will expect much more of you if a crisis occurs. Four days of silence stands out EVEN MORE for these executives than it would for those who kept a very low profile. The lesson is clear: Be aware of what people will expect of you, bsaed on your past behavior. You will face much criticism if you seek publicity when times are good, and then go underground when scandal erupts.

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