Facebook’s response to Cambridge Analytica

Much has been said about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response to the social network’s recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica and its alleged misuse of personal information, and the commonly-held sentiment is negative. Zuckerberg, a once-savvy PR pro, is on the defense and taking a reputation hit as he neglects the basic tenets of issues and crisis communications management.

Rule number 1: Show up

It took Mark Zuckerberg more than four days from when the news broke on March 17, 2018 to when he finally responded to question on the scandal, prompting stories with quotes and titles like Where is Mark Zuckerberg? And Mark Zuckerberg Told to ‘Stop Hiding Behind his Facebook Page’ After Reports of Data Breach.

In those critical days after an issue breaks, you have the option to tell your story, or let other people tell it for you. In crisis communications, if you aren’t the ones providing information, others will step in to fill the holes. Not only do their words become the narrative but it stretches out the news cycle as traditional and social media wait for the company to comment. In Facebook’s case, one of the people who took control of the narrative was Whatsapp co-founder Brian Acton, who helped promote the #deletefacebook campaign online.

When your company is in crisis, you need to show up. Even if you’re still collecting all the facts. It’s ok to commit to getting back to people in a timely fashion when you do have more information. Which leads to rule number two:

Rule number 2: Empathize

Show genuine concern. Use specific language that shows people you understand how serious the situation is, i.e. “We regret that this is happening…”, “We understand the seriousness of the situation.” And apologize – it doesn’t admit fault in a legal sense. It says you regret the anxiety, worry or distress your consumers or stakeholders are in as a result of the situation.

When he finally did speak publicly, Zuckerberg spoke with words of empathy, and continued to reiterate these messages in recent days. But was it too little, too late?

Rule number 3: Take action

So what now? Facebook needs to take action to solve the problem. Bringing the public into the process for rectifying the issue alleviates anxiety and demonstrates leadership and commitment to ensuring this never happens again. It helps us move on. And when we can move on, we begin to forgive and forget.

Zuckerberg took this first step with his initial interviews with CNN, The New York Times, Wired, Recode, and others since. His messages spoke about a commitment to change. They are investigating whether this has happened with any other developers and Zuckerberg is relaxing his views on regulation. But Facebook can’t move past this yet. The problem is that they’re still in trouble from a legal perspective. Lawmakers want Facebook to testify. The story will live on for a while yet.

The biggest issue here is that this is not a one-time incident. It highlights a trend of Facebook’s (and other large corporations) to apologize once they’ve been caught. Trust has been eroded. The community is taking action by deleting their accounts. Facebook will need to address the deeper issues within its organization and move forward with greater transparency if it hopes to rebuild trust among its users, repair its reputation loss and alleviate investor concern.