Zuckerberg Hurt His Credibility by Delaying Response to Crisis, According to Seth Linden

Zuckerberg built an instant gratification machine — but took his time addressing the trouble it’s caused

After Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence Wednesday about the mushrooming Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s hard to argue the Facebook founder and CEO has said too little.

Zuckerberg wrote a 935-word Facebook post Wednesday where he said “we have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”

He sat for interviews with the New York Times, Wired, and a rare on-camera interview with CNN. He was reflective and apologized, calling the episode a “major breach of trust,” saying he’d testify before Congress and admitting he regretted not telling users earlier about their data being accessed.

But despite the Facebook post and parade of media interviews, crisis experts argue Zuckerberg’s personal response came much too late. Though the company had issued statements and other executives had made remarks on social media, Zuckerberg did not speak up until four days after the crisis erupted — a veritable lifetime in today’s crisis playbook.

Having a gap in time between the eruption of the initial crisis and the CEO’s first response “creates more doubt, I think,” said Seth Linden, president of Dukas Linden Public Relations. Doing so “helps to push back narratives you otherwise wouldn’t have had to deal with.”

The great irony, in other words, of such a delayed response is that it came, of all places, from the CEO of Facebook. It was Zuckerberg who founded the platform that is perhaps most responsible for the expectation that leaders speak up immediately.

Zuckerberg’s platform has also contributed substantially to a society that expects immediate gratification.

“For the company that did so much to create the instant reaction society, to not have a response in real time from its CEO is surprising,” said Carreen Winters, chief strategy officer for MWW Public Relations.

Zuckerberg hasn’t shied away from being the face of Facebook. He’s positioned himself as a relatable individual — one who did a 50-state tour. He frequently posts family photos on his page, which is followed by 105 million people, such as his daughter’s first day of preschool or his family’s coordinated Halloween costumes (characters from “Where the Wild Things Are”).

That’s not exactly the CEO one might expect to wait days to speak up about what has been called his company’s existential crisis.

While not rushing to judgment is important, crisis advisers say there is a way to be both immediate and careful.

“I would rather have seen a continuing conversation from him — saying a little bit quickly, then a little bit more, then a little bit more,” Temin said. That way, “he would become the trusted voice in his own crisis.”

“The higher the stakes, the quicker you want to plant your flag,” Temin said. “And these stakes are arguably the highest of any crisis we’ve seen in a long time for a corporation.”


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