Facebook, the goliath social media platform is facing the most difficult year yet in its 14-year history. It faces a crisis of confidence after a slew of scandals including a data breech which affected 87 million of its social media users. However, what is clear from the organisation’s postponed response is that businesses need to face crisis head on.
Deloitte this month launched their latest comprehensive report on crisis management and it seems clear that organisations big and small need to better prepare to face crisis at work. 80% of the respondents surveyed have had to mobilise their organisation in the past two years to intervene in a state of crisis. The report also found a huge disparity between a company’s confidence in its ability to respond and its actual preparedness. However, In the digital age there is no room for sluggish decision making in a crisis. As crisis expert Jonathan Bernstein puts it, “In the 21st century, a social media savant can do more harm than a trial attorney.”
Enter Facebook. It is perhaps more than ironic that the crown jewel in the tech company landscape has been unable to weather one of its stormiest periods. In 2018 a tsunami of accusations has hit the social media giant which have scrutinised its business practises and commitment to privacy. Reports have alleged that Russian agents used the platform to influence voters before the 2016 US presidential election and that British data firm Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook data of up to 87 million users to influence political votes for the same election.
Journalists dubbed the crisis a “Datapocalypse” while the world waited with bated breath to see what Mark Zuckerberg and his team would do next.
James F Haggerty, author of ‘Chief Crisis Officer; Structure and Leadership for Effective Communications Response’ counsels that ‘In a crisis, it’s not the event itself that counts. It’s the response’. For businesses who have experienced a crisis how they act is imperative. He advises businesses to ‘have a permanent internal team tasked with continuous monitoring and management of crisis events and a crisis plan always at the team’s fingertips’.
In the case of Mark Zuckerberg, what Facebook did in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal was move too slowly. Facebook stock plunged 24% from a high of 195.32 on Feb. 1 to a one-year low of 149.02 on March 26. By March 27th the scandal had wiped $80 billon from the platforms market value. When news broke of the crisis, Zuckerberg himself lost $10 billion in a week.
Recovery only began when Facebook publicly responded five days later, an eon of time in the age of social media. Zuckerberg drew criticism for not saying sorry to the alledged 87m users whose data was leaked to Cambridge Analytica. Stock has rebounded 32% since then, indicating Facebook’s mea culpa and recovery plan is working.
However, the continuing collapse of public trust in the platform is very much a leftover sentiment. Organisations facing crises need to be committed to transparency. In June the New York Times broke the story that the Facebook’s partnerships with 60 device makers like Apple and Amazon had mined personal data from phone users without their consent. This information had not been disclosed previously and Facebook was forced by legislators to admit their lack of transparency once again.
face-off with the world
Crisis management experts Chris Clearfield and András Tilesik writing for the Harvard Business Review have offered their three top tips to face an unexpected crisis to avoid the mistakes made by Facebook.
- Learn to Stop
By pausing businesses can observe more clearly unexpected threats and form a clear plan.
- Do, Monitor, Diagnose
Crisis experts recommend the above cycle of action to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
- Know Something about Everybody Else’s job
In a crisis teams who are knowledgeable about what their whole team does can react faster and stronger than those who don’t.
If businesses adhere to the above advice they can remain resillient to crisis and better manage crises when they do appear. For Facebook, the future of the eigth largest company in the world is in the dark. Key figures in both the financial and tech industry have been vocal about how badly the platform have handled these crises. Scott Stringer who supervises funds with an almost $1 bn stake in Facebook told CNN that an independent chairman should be appointed citing that, “They are in uncharted waters and they have not comported themselves in a way that makes people feel good about Facebook”. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, was another critic of the data breech declaring how Facebook handled the situation, “so dire”.
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