Lead by Example, Sheryl Sandberg, and Not by Your Stakeholders

This is an excellent piece on Facebook’s role in the spread of Fake News pushed by Russians on their platform and the stance they are taking publicly. I feel compelled to share this for several important reasons.

On whether or not Facebook is a media company, by definition, yes it is. Merriam Webster defines “media” as “the system and organizations of communication through which information is spread to a large number of people”. They are an organization of communication through which information is spread to a large number of people. Though they may have started off as a private social network for college students, they broke that social contract with no remorse and evolved into an entirely different type of outlet that is very, very public.

Don’t they hire journalists? How about Campbell Brown? She is “a former NBC News correspondent and CNN prime-time host” that Facebook hired to “help news organizations and journalists work more closely and more effectively with Facebook”. Literally a journalist. The end of the article also notes, “The company does have some seasoned journalists in its ranks.”. What about The Facebook Journalism Project? It’s clear the direction they are taking as they realize how much their advertisers are making by posting their own content. The revenue Facebook makes is a fraction of what they could should they fully exploit their own platform to their financial advantage.

This is also a public relations issue. With great power comes great responsibility. The Vanity Fair article uses a great example of how Tylenol handled crisis communications. Their actions and words were protective of the people, not their best interest. This cost them $100 million dollars, but it did not cost them their brand. As Nick Bilton so succinctly put it, “unless the company takes full responsibility for what happened, and dedicates an extraordinary amount of money and resources to stopping it from happening again, as Johnson & Johnson did with Tylenol in 1982, the repercussions could be devastating.”

It’s to be said that Facebook is so widely adopted that it could never be “dead”. Here I’ll use MySpace as an example. They are technically “alive”, but effectively dead. They are irrelevant. They will never reclaim the throne in this game. The website may be alive, but it’s on a life support machine. Their brand is dead. Long live their brand. If Facebook does not pivot their brand to rise to this challenge, they will suffer.

I’m disappointed that Sheryl Sandberg has chosen to take this stance rather than push her team and… lean in. She could be using this as an opportunity to create some powerful precedent and become the Tylenol of modern public relations. Her role at this pivotal company is to take ownership and innovative leadership over new challenges that may arise as they pioneer new landscapes. Lead by example, Sheryl, and not by your stakeholders.

This is an issue of responsibility and we should all be paying very close attention.