An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg Dear Mark,

You didn’t ask for any advice from me, but I’m going to offer it to you anyway—free of charge—because I think you need it right about now as the value of your great company is in free-fall.  I realize I’m not a tech guy.  And I’m not a Fortune 50 CEO either.  But I do know a thing or two about leadership and management.

My only association with Facebook is my own Facebook page.  I wasn’t one of the insiders who got in on your IPO. So, I’ll confess my ignorance up front, and ask you a few basic questions.

First, who would you say is the “Face” of Facebook?  That is, who knows the organization and the direction of your company best?

I’m assuming your answer to this question is, categorically, “Me!”

As it should be.  But if that’s the case, you need to be leading from the front, with a clearly articulated vision of where you’re taking Facebook.  When the floodwaters are rising, you need to be seen out there waste-deep in leaky waders helping people, pushing boats, rescuing cats and dogs and directing the rescue effort.

To date, you’ve been conspicuously absent, emerging once to say your company’s sinking stock price has been “painful” to watch, and to “stay focused.”

You’re working hard behind the scenes, you say?  Nice, but honestly, it doesn’t matter.  Your company’s stock price is only an indicator—an indicator of confidence by the general public and by investors.   Right now, confidence in Facebook is rapidly diminishing.  And if you’re the “face” of Facebook, your own confidence index is waning too.

How to fix that?  Get your waders on and get out into the flood waters.  Now.

My second question:  who actually runs Facebook, and who makes the decisions?

In the past you’ve admitted:

“There are people who are really good managers, people who can manage a big organization, and then there are people who are very analytic or focused on strategy. Those two types don’t usually tend to be in the same person. I would put myself much more in the latter camp.”

Let’s look for a moment at your leadership team:  Sheryl Sandberg is your COO.  David Ebersman is your CFO.  David Fischer, Dan Rose, Chris Cox, Mike Schroepfer, Elliot Schrage and Theodore Ulyot are your functional vice presidents.  I noticed that almost all of these folks (Schrage, the exception at 52) are younger than 45.  They’re all Ivy League grads with lots of experience with outfits like Amazon, Google, McKinsey and various high-level White House postings.

So, they’re not exactly average folks.  Do they shop at Target?  Eat at Applebees?  Pick their kids up from school?  Do they really understand the Baby Boomers (Facebook’s fastest growing demographic)?

The answer I’d expect you to give, based on what you’ve said in the past is that with an organization like Facebook, you need Millennial genius minds to manage it.

If that is your view, it’s a huge mistake.  What you really need are smart, ordinary people of all age groups and genders, with diverse ethnicities, experiences and perspectives who understand and can effectively communicate with other average folks.  Both your gods and demigods should operate together and share real decision-making authority.  Genius is fine, but there’s no substitute for genuineness, native intelligence and skill.

You see, the problem with geniuses is that in business, they tend to operate in the stratosphere, obsessing about ways to monetize and make money at all costs.  They spend their day in meetings with their fellow vice presidents, and what they forget to consider is that their real stakeholders are ordinary people.

In Facebook’s case, your real customers are not your advertisers, they’re everyone who’s keeping a Facebook page, and actively using it.  Without them, you have nothing.  They’re your center of gravity.  Take care of them first, and your advertisers and stockholders will follow dutifully behind.

There are always exceptions, but typically, your average people will be your leaders.   Your geniuses will be your managers.  Managers ensure things are done right, while leaders ensure you do the right thing.

User privacy concerns… data mining… identity theft… harassment… lack of customer support… tracking cookies… censorship… fake accounts?

It all matters.  And when there’s no customer support to address those concerns, most of us will just quit Facebook for good.

Leaders in your organization will make a big deal about those concerns, and drive you toward real solutions.  Managers will wring their hands, and often move your entire organization into a kind of “paralysis by analysis.”  On the other hand, some of those solutions your leaders present may well cost you a few hundred million dollars in the short term, but in the long run, you’ll maintain our loyalty and you’ll continue to be successful.

On Facebook everything is about relationships and connections. You’ve said that often.  But that’s the thing--relationships thrive on trust.

So know this:  right now, we still like you, but we don’t really trust you.  And if you’re looking for the real reason you’re in the dramatic free fall you’re in right now, that’s it.

Sincerely,

John Fenzel

P.S.  You haven’t posted anything on your Facebook page for a month now.   This would be a great time for you to start posting…(because if you’re not on there, why should we?).