Did Facebook ace its congressional test?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s two-day testimony before both Senate and
House officials offered a fascinating case study in crisis communications
at the highest level. Time will tell whether Zuckerberg accomplished his
long-term goals, but from a strict communications perspective it was a
Here are five key points that professional communicators can take away from
Practice, practice, practice—and role-play before interviews or
Ahead of his appearances before the House and Senate committees this week,
Zuckerberg has been on the road fine-tuning his testimony and role-playing
Q/A with his PR/legal/government team. Perhaps as a result, the
oftentimes socially uncomfortable 33-year-old tech titan looked relatively
relaxed before the potentially daunting congressional committees. He was
obviously hoping for the best, but was well prepared for the worst during
approximately 10-hours of being on a sizzling hot seat.
Be polite, and apologize if appropriate.
When faced with tough questions, Zuckerberg resorted to respectful
replies and apologies to questioners. Remember, being contentious during
testimony or most media interviews yields poor results. Zuckerberg’s
preparation conjures up a lesson from the physician’s Hippocratic oath:
First, do no harm.
Connect with your audience
Zuckerberg made every attempt at personalizing and creating empathy during
his testimony, a good tactic to blunt an attack. One example: Zuckerberg
volunteered that he also lost personal and private data when 87-million
Facebook users’ information was compromised through Cambridge Analytica.
Being in control of your environment.
Zuckerberg appeared surprisingly in control at times, even occasionally
displaying a restrained smile and an uncharacteristic attempt at humor.
Possibly, the market’s uptick for Facebook stock over the two-days of
testimony also bolstered Zuckerberg’s confidence, while sitting on his
cushioned chair may have given him an appearance of a bit more height and
comfort. Crisis managers agree that sharing any positive and supportive
information with a nervous client before testimony, making them feel good
about themselves and their surroundings, are always good attitude
Never say “no comment.”
When Zuckerberg didn’t have an answer or didn’t want to answer a testy
question he additionally fell back on either pat apologies for not doing a
better job or a promise to get back to the committee with factual response.
For instance, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) asked if Facebook will be
using more default settings to protect private data that could be
weaponized. Zuckerberg didn’t say yes or no, but promised to follow-up.
Of course, there are times when legal counsel advises a client testifying
under oath to invoke the Fifth Amendment, but there was no need this time
for Zuckerberg to go in that direction.
is Senior Vice President, Crisis and Litigation Communications, at
kglobal, a Washington, DC-based full-service communications firm and has
worked with legal teams preparing clients for congressional testimony.