In 2020, Zuckerberg Made Fb Do a Faceplant
During the vacation, one of my relatives called our Zoom meeting a “Kodak moment”. The recall made me grin because the relative in question was born long after Kodak was a real gambler in the photo business.
The Kodak brand continues to resonate because the company has successfully positioned itself as the vehicle that people, and especially families, communicate with and share memories with those who love them.
When it became very popular, Facebook played the same role in users’ lives as Kodak. Facebook was one of the few apps that was adopted by all age groups. They used them to revive old connections, make new friends, and create shared memories.
Even so, Facebook’s brand is pretty much in the metaphorical toilet today. In 2020, Mark Zuckerberg completed the transformation of Facebook from the company that brings you love to the company you love to hate. Here are his most egregious mistakes:
1. Remaining company spokesperson
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, but that likely have to do with hubris and vanity, tech founders seem determined to use their own face as the public face of their corporate brand. This works when the founder or CEO has the dazzling charisma of Elon Musk or even the vicious doctor villain of, say, Jeff Bezos.
Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, looks like a blinking mole that is bathed in sunlight after hibernating. On his best days, Zuck makes Jesse Eisenberg look like Chris Evans. But apparently Zuckerberg is too vain, or perhaps too clueless, to do the obvious: stay chairman, but promote Sheryl Sandberg to CEO and let your media-friendly person unfold her undeniable charm.
The lesson for entrepreneurs is this: if you want your face to be the de facto logo for your business, you should have a face that may not best be described as superbly beatable.
2. Sip the Kool-Aid, but don’t drink it
When Facebook was first accused of censoring the old-right conspiracy fans and their political makers, Zuckerberg could have pointed out that Facebook is a private company and therefore has no obligation to disseminate anyone’s “alternative facts”. Instead, Zuckerberg made public noises about free speech and made himself comfortable with Trump in hopes that kissing the ring could (so to speak) save Facebook from government regulation.
Regardless of the kneeling vibration, Facebook faced the first major antitrust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in the past 25 years. Horn a daisy!
What Zuckerberg didn’t realize is that there are no shades of gray in CrazyTown. Either you are everything or you are the enemy. The only way Zuckerberg could have avoided this antitrust proceeding would have been to turn Facebook into a Fox News clone. By trying to play both sides, he was merely alienating constituencies, which might have relaxed him a little. As it is, the Biden administration will likely join the pile-on.
The lesson for entrepreneurs is that you have to choose one side. Long gone are the days when you can pretend politics doesn’t matter and you will address everyone. Maybe you can avoid choosing a side when you’re under the radar, but when you’re under the radar no one will know you are there, right?
3. Totally failed to innovate
Zuckerberg’s 2020 failure to either sink, buy, or mimic TikTok merely highlighted the total lack of creativity on Facebook under his leadership. The Facebook app looks and feels like it was in 2004 – ugly, bloated, busy, difficult to use, and easy to abuse. What’s worse, Facebook has a single source of income, making it prone to being brought to its knees by Apple, if not the government.
In 2020, it became painfully clear that Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t had an original idea since college. He’s like the guy who pretends to be a homemade man after inheriting a fortune, or the guy who thinks he has friends because he buys drinks for strangers in a bar. Zuckerberg poses as an innovator, but he’s really just a one-trick pony with a lot of money.
The lesson for entrepreneurs is that an acquisition strategy is the last resort.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.