Over the last few years, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been no stranger to being under an unfavourable spotlight of scrutiny. Yet, he was likely still surprised when on Tuesday audio from internal employee meetings was leaked online. And unless we are caught up in an elaborate game of 4D chess by the Zuck, it provides some rather frank views on the state of his company’s reputation and challenges it’s facing.
The audio and transcript, which was published by the astonishing team of bloodhounds at The Verge, comes from two meetings held with Facebook staff in July. And though we recommend checking it out in full, we're going to give you some of the most salient points for marketers.
On the subject of a potential company breakup or intense regulation, in the face of statements made by Democratic presidential hopefuls like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Zuckerberg was his usual bullish self. Stating the company would undeniably win any kind of litigation, even if it would “suck” to go against his own government but that they would not roll over and accept any kind of break up.
Zuckerberg summed up his thoughts saying, “But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
But he couldn’t resist taking a dig at rival social media giant Twitter for, in his opinion, not doing as good a job keeping its house in order, saying, “Our investment on safety is bigger than the whole revenue of their company.”
Other subjects approached during the recorded discussions related to the future strategy Facebook was going to take, both in relation to its own products and its competitors.
Along with the standard jabber about moving into AR and VR, we got a few more nuggets of information about Libra, the working title for the company’s attempt to break into P2P payment systems. Zuckerberg says he plans to have money transfers happen through the company’s WhatsApp and Messenger apps, using traditional currencies. The move is likely to coincide with greater encryption of its chat tools, something it also knows won’t be popular with the government.
Zuckerberg opines, “That will, over time, be very sensitive when we get closer to rolling it out. Law enforcement, obviously, is not going to be psyched about that.”
But a juicier bit of information was how Zuckerberg perceives one of his newest and deadliest rivals, TikTok. While Facebook has been gradually perceived as a “boomer” app by more cynical netizens and haemorrhages younger users, TikTok has been sweeping them up and already has over 800 million users worldwide. But Zuckerberg is seemingly not afraid of the China-based app that picked up Vine’s legacy and built something far greater from it. He sees the video app as being based around a single function Instagram already provides in its Explore tool. But he still is working on some counters, taking a Fabian Strategy approach to avoid confronting TikTok directly.
Zuckerberg says, “So we have a number of approaches that we’re going to take towards this, and we have a product called Lasso that’s a standalone app that we’re working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico, is I think one of the first initial ones. We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big.”
Finally, Zuckerberg also paid some reasonable lip service to its troubled image issues in the wake of scandals such as Cambridge Analytica and the hair-raising stories of staff suffering PTSD when moderating content uploaded to the site.
In the former case, Zuckerberg told staff to let people know Facebook was working on the problems it has, but on the latter the CEO may have come off a little, well robotic, saying:
“Some of the reports, I think, are a little overdramatic. From digging into them and understanding what’s going on, it’s not that most people are just looking at just terrible things all day long. But there are really bad things that people have to deal with, and making sure that people get the right counselling and space and ability to take breaks and get the mental health support that they need is a really important thing.“
Zuckerberg also spoke on how he feels justified remaining in such a prominent leadership position in the company he founded. But really the key takeaway of this leak isn’t the leak itself. It’s how Zuckerberg has responded to it. Rather than hiding in the shadows or releasing a statement about how betrayed he feels, Zuckerberg has actually pulled off a mini PR coup by publishing a link to The Verge’s piece on his Facebook page.
The post had the comment, "You can check it out if you're interested in seeing an unfiltered version of what I'm thinking and telling employees on a bunch of topics like social responsibility, breaking up tech companies, Libra, neural computing interfaces, and doing the right thing over the long term."
Whatever else you might think about Zuckerberg - such as his reputation for being awkward and out of touch with the majority of us mere humans - you cannot deny the guy displays astonishing front when fingers start pointing. With power plays like this, he reminds a captive audience that the reason you're talking about Mark Zuckerberg is that even if the wine and roses years for the original tech bros are over, Facebook still matters.