Insights Nigel Fairbrass

What’s on your mind, Mark?

Mark Zuckerberg updated his status this week, from putative presidential candidate to public enemy number one. And the Holy See in hot water over doctoring a private letter #releasetheletter…

Re-playing organisational responses and injecting a more human approach


Mark Zuckerberg updated his status this week, from putative presidential candidate to public enemy number one.  

The extensive commentary on his absence during this week’s Cambridge Analytica saga, confirmed that everyone is now an armchair communications critic and that we have formally entered the age of the meta-crisis.  How you choose to manage a crisis is now as much a part of the narrative as your success in understanding and resolving the issue itself.

Impact? What’s painfully obvious is that the insatiable appetite for summary judgment and retribution, as evinced by rolling news and the social media mob, places impossible expectations on internal corporate structures.  In Facebook’s case the threat of litigation, new regulation and various governmental investigations was more than enough to send the company to ground.

Response? When Zuckerberg was finally smoked out of his hole on Wednesday, he countered that he thought it better to talk from a position of knowledge.  This might have fallen flat had he not then offered a masterclass in modern day crisis communication.   In clear, simple language which was mercifully free of any jargon, Zuckerberg issued a post on his own account in which he set out a candid chronology of events and Facebook’s part in them.  It was directhuman and above all it was personal, something that was true to the company’s personality and values.  He followed that up with a broadcast interview with CNN which, while probably manufactured to within an inch of its life, was pure emotional appeal.

How could it have been different? The pressure to show leadership and empathy is now overwhelming in the early part of a crisis, but as the former CEO of Talk-Talk, Dido Harding, demonstrated in various infamous interviews with the BBC following a data breach in 2015, not having answers to obvious questions can also mean you are pilloried for different reasons.

Facebook’s share price continues to discount the possibility of significant fines and punitive action, but it’s now Cambridge Analytica which looks the more vulnerable. For Facebook however, having successfully ventured out of the bunker once, it should now resist the temptation to step back in.

Sins of Omission

Even the Holy See felt the lack of charity amongst the social media laity this week.  Monsignor Dario Vigano, the Vatican’s head of communications, was forced to resign following allegations that he deliberately doctored and published portions of a private letter, sent from the former Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to current Pope Francis this month.

Vigano had used excerpts from the letter as ecclesiastical ‘third-party endorsement’ at the launch of a book series on his boss’s theology.  He quoted the former pontiff apparently rejecting the “stupid prejudice” of anyone who might dare question the obvious wisdom of his successor.  Unfortunately, the letter contained a critical ‘BUT’ on the final page, something Vigano then tried to cover up by releasing a photo of the letter with the crucial qualification rather clumsily obscured.  The ensuing uproar gained its own hashtag #releasetheletter, which went viral, and justified large spreads in the religious press.

Response? In a statement the Vatican said with forked-tongue that there had been “in no way an attempt at censorship” and only what was “opportune and relative” had been released because the letter was private. The Vatican later released the full letter, but by that point it was too late.

The incident was perhaps indication of a cultural lack of transparency, and came on the back of Pope Francis issuing a document in January condemning fake news as satanic, describing it as “a snake in the Garden of Eden”, which led to the spread of arrogance and hatred.  Quite prophetic as it happens.