Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal is proving remarkably inept. The dynamite revelation by a whistleblower, that the data of 50 million users was mined without their consent and used by a political consultancy, threatens the very future of the social network. Yet it has taken five days for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to issue a statement. The story broke on Saturday, by Wednesday Facebook shares fell by more than 2 per cent and were down more than 11 per cent on Thursday. At the time of writing, $57 billion has been wiped off the market value of Facebook in less than a week (whilst Twitter’s share price has risen 3%). Only after all this fallout has Zuckerberg belatedly admitted that the company has “made mistakes” and that there has been “a breach of trust”.
In terms of trying to manage the story, Zuckerberg and his organisation have already failed to avoid three enormous blunders which are routinely explored in crisis media training.
- Silence is NOT golden. Reacting to a crisis at a snail’s pace is a self-inflicted wound that can herald the death-knell of reputation and eventually end careers and companies. Facebook is not only haemorrhaging money but users too, who started closing their accounts well before the #deletefacebook exhortation from Whatsapp founder Brian Acton. When a crisis affects your organisation, putting out a statement as early as possible is a not-to-be-missed chance to be part of the narrative and put your case forward.
- Lance the boil. A key principle of managing a crisis is being upfront about everything as quickly as possible and saying sorry at the earliest opportunity if an apology is warranted. This allows the focus to turn to remedying actions much sooner, as opposed to being exposed to the death by a thousand cuts of drip-drip allegations. The most painful phase of a crisis lasts much longer if the organisation at its epicentre is in denial or unwilling to take responsibility and face up to the true scale of its problems.
- Be visible. It’s tempting to hide when things are going wrong but it’s a massive mistake to stay out of the media spotlight. Right now, who doesn’t want to speak to Mark Zuckerberg? He should be using this admittedly uncomfortable attention for vital damage limitation. After all, it’s his (highly-paid) job to face the music, it’s his responsibility to answer to customers, investors and staff.