It’s been a week since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on CNN in an attempt to quell concerns stemming from the Cambridge Analytica data breach. Calling that appearance a communications ‘miss’ would be an understatement. In fact, Zuckerberg might have done his company more harm than good by coming off as unprepared for what should have been a carefully-calculated, well-rehearsed media opportunity.
With speculation now swirling over a possible congressional subpoena and the steps Facebook will take to prevent this from happening again, the question now becomes ‘what’s next for Facebook and the social media landscape as a whole…and how does the company win back the trust of its consumers and advertisers.’
This story will play out over the coming days…weeks…months…even years, but here are some initial takeaways from Schwartz Media Strategies partner Aaron Gordon, who offered his insight to reporters from Associated Press and PRWeek in the aftermath of Zuckerberg’s shaky interview.
- The Facebook communications team overplayed its hand. They knew about the Cambridge breach two weeks before the interview, but Zuckerberg kept quiet. It’s hard to imagine they didn’t have a crisis response plan on the shelf in the event of a breach of this nature. They tried to get ahead of it by proactively announcing the breach in a statement, but didn’t take ownership, offer an apology or answer questions. Facebook should have been ready to face the public earlier on.
- The interview could have been a win. Facebook had two weeks to prepare the CEO for that moment, but Zuckerberg seemed unsure and mealy-mouthed. He should have been equipped with a list of specific actions they’re taking to prevent another breach, and he would have been wise to agree to testify at Congress on the air. Instead, he prompted another news cycle focused on whether or not he’ll be subpoenaed. That’s a damaging outcome for a publicly-traded company.
- Cue the regulators. This breach exposed a fatal flaw in the social media ecosystem and we can expect other platforms will get scooped into the dragnet. Facebook isn’t going away. It’s the yellow pages of the 21st century. But even the phone book has editors policing advertising content. Controlling every shred of digital content isn’t easy, but Facebook created a new paradigm so it’s up to them to perfect their technology. If they can’t do it, then stricter regulation is inevitable.
- The Facebook business model is at risk. We saw Mozilla suspend its ad campaign one day after the CNN interview. More advertisers will likely pull out as consumer pressure ramps up and the investigation deepens. Facebook must now appeal to advertisers’ desire for data while allaying heightened consumer privacy concerns. Will they be able to walk this fine line? That’s the critical question moving forward.
- This could be a good thing. Facebook’s immediate concern is navigating security concerns, greater oversight, possible litigation, and tarnished public perception. The CEO asking ‘are there other Cambridge Analyticas out there?’ didn’t instill confidence, but Facebook has built a platform that’s pervasive in everyday life and designed to adapt over time. By inviting sensible regulation, initiating tighter internal controls, and fine-tuning its public messaging, Facebook can position itself for future growth.
Can Facebook Restore Public Trust After Privacy Scandal?
It’s a scandal of privacy, politics and an essential ingredient of business success — public trust.
Facebook is confronting a costly, embarrassing public relations debacle after revelations that Cambridge Analytica may have misused data from some 50 million users to try to influence elections. Among its marquee clients: President Donald Trump’s general election campaign.
Now a company known as much for reminders of a long-lost friend’s birthday and documentation of acquaintances’ every whim is grappling with outrage— and the possible loss of confidence — from users around the globe that have made the social media site a part of their daily routine…
While some disenchanted Facebook users have deactivated their accounts, others point out that breaking up can be hard to do. If a credit card company or an airline’s data is breached, it’s easy enough to switch allegiances. But for most of Facebook’s 2 billion users there’s no real substitute, says Aaron Gordon, a partner at Schwartz Media Strategies, a Miami-based public relations and crisis management firm.
“It’s a lot harder to just up and leave,” he says. “So you go to Twitter or Instagram? It’s not the same…”