Is Zuckerberg smart or stupid for keeping quiet after IPO issues?

June 11, 2012


I'd bet anyone my 1985 World Series poster that Mark Zuckerberg will be just fine staying quiet...and that almost any other CEO wouldn't be.


Mark Zuckerberg is not following the rules. At least, he’s not following the PR rules when it comes to how a CEO should handle a company issue that makes as much news — as much negative news — as Facebook’s recent IPO. The rules say speak up, address the public, stand as a sign of strength for your company. The question is, do the same “PR rules” that apply to other CEOs apply to Zuckerberg and Facebook?

If you took a survey asking who the most successful CEO of the last 50 years was, I am willing to bet my Royals 1985 World Series poster that the winner would be Steve Jobs…in a landslide. I bring that up because I agree with this piece from Forbes that says Zuckerberg is simply handling the situation exactly like Jobs would have. And since Jobs was a different kind of CEO who used to say things like, “We don’t invest in market research. We invest in people who know how to make products people want and need,” that comparison really does seem to hold a lot of water.

Both Jobs, and now Zuckerberg, seem to lead to the beat of their own drum. As Forbes points out, Jobs was famous for keeping his public appearances limited and creating some secrecy around himself so that when he did speak, people really listened and everything he said came off as profound. That approach worked for Jobs as CEO of Apple. And now Zuckerberg seems content to copy it and say nothing about the disaster Facebook’s IPO has been since the day NASDAQ messed up the initial market availability.

Is Zuckerberg making a smart move? Hell no. If he were CEO of almost any other public company in the U.S. But I do think he can make the CEO mystique thing work for him as it worked for Jobs for one main reason — because of how much the public has emotionally invested in the Facebook platform.

Have you ever thought about why customers choose the brands they choose? It usually revolves around one of three reasons: 1) product performance, 2) price, 3) customer service/brand reputation. Reasons two and three don’t mean a whole lot if the product doesn’t perform. And the product’s performance can be so elite that, in the words of Metallica, nothing else matters.

In those cases, the sort of cockiness and mysteriousness that Jobs brought to Apple only add to the brand’s story. And details that could be seen as weird for other CEOs — always wearing a black turtleneck for example — become cool because people love the company and its product so much. This is true with other passion areas like music too. Think about the Grateful Dead bears, for example. Definitely could have been seen as weird. But weird became cool to deadheads.

Both Apple and Facebook have not only changed technology, they have changed the way we literally interact with friends and family on a daily basis. We use their “product” to connect with people in ways we never could before. They’ve changed our lives and there’s no going back. So to be honest with you, it’s going to take a lot for Zuckerberg to majorly screw up. Everything he does can be spun as smart because the product he’s created is something people want to be a part of.

So to answer the question we started with, it’s ok for Zuckerberg to break the PR rules when it comes to the IPO or most other negative news stories that come out about Facebook. His silence and secrecy can be spun as positive. But 99 percent of CEOs would be endangering their company, their shareholders and their reputation by staying quiet amidst this type of chaos, especially such a public issue that impacts their investors pocketbooks.

99 percent of CEOs would need to say something, but Zuck ain’t one.

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