Lessons from Facebook's Privacy Dust-up

Linda Dulye's picture
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When you have nearly 500 million global customers, even if one percent of them have concerns with how your organization is doing business, you've got five million unhappy people. That's the situation Facebook, the social networking behemoth, finds itself in these days. (Of course, some have pointed out that Facebook members aren't customers at all; they're providers of status updates, photos, videos and other content that essentially make Facebook the customer.)
 
As Facebook has grown it has faced concerns with its privacy policies. Specifically, how and with whom members' personal information is shared online. Just last week, after nearly a month of considerable heat from members – some of them high profile – privacy organizations and the media, Facebook announced new measures to address these concerns. What struck me was a quote from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in The New York Times:
 
"It has been a pretty intense few weeks for us," said Mr. Zuckerberg, who added that he had been huddled with other senior executives for the last two weeks to help shape Facebook's response.
 
Chatter on tech websites and blogs included rumors that Facebook was, in fact, hunkered down in a conference room to design new privacy controls. But that's all it was: rumor. As the noise from the blogosphere and Facebook members got louder, the company remained silent.
 
But eventually the amount of bad publicity became impossible to ignore. "No one likes to see the amount of feedback that we are getting," Mr. Zuckerberg said in an interview. "A lot of the blogs and feedback were really negative."
 
One thing that might have helped quell the unrest among the dissatisfied users would have been of the company had simply said what Zuckerberg mentioned to reporters: he and other leaders were aware of users' concerns, that they were reviewing options to address them, and that they would reveal the new plan within three weeks. 
 
With that statement alone, Facebook users would have known the company heard their feedback and that they were addressing it. Instead, users got more agitated. 
 
The lesson for leaders and communicators within organizations? Even if you have nothing concrete to share, it's often enough just to let employees know that you're working on a solution to a challenge and that you'll communicate new information as soon as you have it. 
 
As Facebook has shown, when silence from one party is deafening, the roar from the other can be even several decibels worse. 

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