This Facebook thing seems to be here to stay.
That was the joke a few years ago when the movie debuted, cementing FB’s place as the “social” part of social media. Then came the company’s initial public offering of stock in May. Now people are wondering about its longevity.
Since then, as Andrew Ross Sorkin writes in today’s important Dealbook column in The New York Times, the company lost $50 billion in market value. A FB share closed Friday at $18.06 when it debuted at $38.
That’s a disaster no one would “like.”
Sorkin surely does not, and he aims blame at the previously ignored individual on FB’s side of the ledger who is more responsible for the disaster than CEO Mark Zuckerberg or COO Sheryl Sandberg. That’s CFO David Ebersman. Sorkin’s column dismantles Ebersman’s decision-making in the understated technique of an ace serve in tennis. Smack. Whoosh. Point taken.
Yet here’s where FB compounded the mess, multiplying the Sorkin column’s damage and impact with investors. FB made it easier for Sorkin to criticize the whole mess by not making Ebersman available to comment, and not commenting as a company.
This further demonstrates how 21st century tech companies can act just as stubbornly and stupidly as 20th century industrial companies. You’d want to think that FB, which provides a forum for anyone to comment on the myriad irrelevant details of our “friends'” lives, would get it. But no:
A spokesman for Facebook, Elliot Schrage, declined to comment and would not make Mr. Ebersman available.
Without ascribing what I’m going to say next to Sorkin, my experience in several newsrooms over 30 years says that response almost always gets an ear-to-ear grin from a columnist. It says home run, knockout punch. It says, I don’t have to worry about balancing my opinion in the face of a furious company rebuttal. It says I get to write an entire column about what I think; not what “they” think.
This non-response response does several other things. First, it affirms Sorkin’s conclusions. He writes for the Times, “must be true.” It screams that FB and Ebersman have much to hide; confirms they think they performed poorly; and can’t even muster a defense.
[Detouring, there was a fascinating tidbit from the book by the former Navy SEAL commander about Osama bin Laden's death. He wrote that bin Laden, who'd sent plenty of others off to die for his cause, didn't have the commitment to it to even pick up a gun and defend himself when the SEALs attacked his Abbottabad compound. There's a similar feeling here.]
Thus finally, and most egregiously for FB’s leaders, the no comment decision allows Sorkin and FB naysayers to probably damage even further a stock that’s already on life-support; [not that that was Sorkin's goal.]
A no comment guarantees that the company or individual will fail to achieve anything positive, especially missing an opportunity for transformative leadership — at a crucial time for Facebook.
Say something people. Ebersman is not stupid, nor inexperienced. If he miscalculated, say so. If he sees better days ahead because of internal decisions made but not yet deployed, defend his reputation while backing the company. If there is a recovery strategy in the works, say there’s a recovery strategy in the works.
FB’s problem is the old “there’s no there there.” What does FB sell? It’s like a 21st century Central Park. People wander through chatting with friends, seeing interesting things, eavesdropping on various conversations. But how do you monetize that when there’s no admission to the park?
Not commenting to The New York Times simply prolongs the revenue confusion.
If ever there was a chance for the CFO to say something positive, anything of substance, to rally the stock [and, we have to think, the morale of FB's employees] this was it. Does the company want to lose all its brilliant engineers, code writers and high-tech ideators? We’ll assume not.
So stand up for yourselves. Tell the markets they’re wrong and set about proving it. This isn’t high school, or even some college fraternity rush. In the real world, people will listen. They’re dying to hear what you think. Coalesce. Grow a pair. Stand up for your work and your future and your company’s future.
No comment is never an option.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates