What We Learned from the Q&A Livestream with Mark Zuckerberg
Abby Long is the Senior Managing Editor at PMG.
In an unprecedented move, Facebook’s now-infamous leak resulted in the public getting front-row seats to a weekly internal Q&A at the social media titan last week. There was a lot to unpack in both the audio leak from July and the livestream, but at a high level, here’s what I found most interesting and took away as a curious onlooker to the livestream.
As initially mentioned by Mark Zuckerberg on camera, the livestream served as an “experiment” after a “pretty disappointing” audio leak of a prior weekly Q&A, a time that is notably used by Zuckerberg to communicate openly to the company’s employees. Judging by the casual atmosphere, light agenda, meeting spaces, and empty seating in the back, it’s evident this time is used to encourage global camaraderie and facilitate greater visibility into what’s on Facebook’s “collective mind.” The meeting also serves as an opportunity for Zuckerberg to answer any employee questions in an open mic setting (about both personal and professional topics).
Review of company priorities and how recent global developments relate to those objectives.
Zuckerberg to answer the top 5 most voted questions from Facebook employees.
Open mic to ask additional questions to Zuckerberg directly.
In speaking to the elephant in the room (i.e., the leak), Zuckerberg immediately shared that while the Facebook team was initially shocked it happened, their second reaction was that they ultimately “stood by” what was said — fundamentally believing in the content discussed. Once that prefacing was out of the way, we barreled right into the meeting agenda. Zuckerberg had the usual upbeat tempo and agenda you expect from an executive who has the floor —starting with an outline of the company’s objectives and priorities. Which for Facebook, we learned are:
“Making progress on the major social issues that [we in] the Internet are in the center of” —broadly supporting freedom of expression but also making people safe.
“Building qualitatively new experiences for people, and teeing ourselves up to build the infrastructure to continue to build qualitatively new experiences in the future” —new work to build a private social platform to complement the digital town square currently available with Facebook and Instagram.
“Continue to build upon the momentum in the business” —improving upon current products.
“Trying to get out in public and be more transparent about how we address the important issues” — essentially making a case for why bringing people together in community is a positive force for the world.
While speaking about these, two things stood out to me the most. One was the language Zuckerberg used to describe Facebook’s highest priorities. It wasn’t formal, nor did he sound rehearsed or loaded his statements with tech jargon, but actually sounded sincere and passionate about the work Facebook is doing. The second was how he runs the meeting in that he addresses timely developments first, then weaves product updates and contextual sentiments about cultural and global issues related to Facebook’s four priorities. All too often, we hear executives stick to the same soundbites. Either in internal reports, earnings calls, or the press, communications from the C suite sound agonizingly robotic, so it was genuinely nice to hear Zuckerberg speak freely and use the time to recognize the existence of legitimate issues and Facebook’s work around those topics.
Recognizing the existence of tough issues is, of course, followed by the inevitable need to address the work being done to fix them. While Zuckerberg is known for his rigid demeanor and tight lip in media interviews, to see him here, in his element, facing tough questions exposed a new side of Zuckerberg. He projected confidence, seemed grounded, focused, and intellectually intrigued by each question he fielded, not to mention his clear fixation on finding solutions.
The way he addressed particularly loaded questions was especially fascinating to watch as he would parse out each question within a question then thoroughly answered each element. An example being Zuckerberg addressing the complexity of stopping rampant nefarious activity on Facebook products and the presumed safety risks imposed with end-to-end encryption. An interesting point was made in that he believes that observing patterns of activity can be more useful in discovering criminal actions rather than looking at the content itself to ascertain criminality.
“Code wins arguments.”
Zuckerberg on internal hack-a-thons and the importance of supporting social issues with infrastructure and product development.
To be human and have a genuine executive presence is to show energy and mindfulness as well as not having the perfect, rehearsed answer for every question. And with that in mind, I think Zuckerberg did an exceptional job in highlighting the issues and candidly answering some tough questions in a time where regulatory scrutiny has intensified against the social titan.
It goes without saying, but listening to Zuckerberg talk, unscripted, was a lesson in and of itself on how executive communication shapes company culture, thus, organizational priorities. If your purpose is to promote freedom of expression, it makes sense that your organization would implement practices to do just that. Like any organization, Facebook faces its fair share of operational problems, and perhaps more so given its size, uniqueness, and global influence, but the mere existence of these weekly internal Q&As substantiates its commitment to freedom of expression and promoting the health of civil discourse both internally and externally.
This was apparent during the open mic portion of the meeting, where Zuckerberg was challenged by an employee to respond to Bernie Sanders’ recent comments about the existence of billionaires. A good awkward laugh was had by all, but Zuckerberg’s ability to answer the question sincerely speaks a lot to how he processes information and sees himself in the world.
Regardless of the subject being discussed, Zuckerberg reinforced his and the organization’s laser focus on building community and developing exceptional products and experiences. The emphasis on supporting freedom of expression and promoting the health of civil discourse being at the center of that work.
Media often makes Facebook out to be the villain of the Bay Area, but this livestream facilitated the opportunity for Zuckerberg to humanize himself and the company’s operations a bit more. This was explicitly reinforced at the end of the Q&A when Zuckerberg closed the meeting by highlighting the use of Facebook products with @wheeltheworld, an organization that keeps inclusivity in mind with its mission to provide accessible experiences for people with disabilities.
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Only time will tell if organic, operational transparency will improve Facebook’s social image, but in the meantime, I’ll be patiently thumbing through social apps; awaiting the next opportunity to be a fly on the wall of one of the world’s biggest, most influential companies.