Update 3.12.08: Zuckerberg and his advisors followed up with a good move yesterday. They made Mark available for an open Q&A by himself at a Facebook event at SXSW. As Jeff Jarvis mentioned, this is very smart.
By Kyle Austin
Before the New York Times dropped the bombshell on Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s involvement with a high-priced prostitution ring yesterday, the biggest news scandal and controversy of the week had come out of the SXSW conference. Of course I’m referring to the now infamous Sarah Lacy interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; which some are calling the worst technology interview ever.
Lacy and Zuckerberg traded a noticbly awkward conversation that turned the crowd, the majority of which were developers, against them. It then turned the blogs against them in an epic proportion as the attendees kicked off a twitter and blog based assault on Lacy that spiraled through the blogosphere. However Kara Swisher, Michael Arrington and Owen Thomas (who miraculously all agree on something for once), have it right in noting that this isn’t Lacy’s fault. She shouldn’t even be in the spotlight here. The spotlight should have been on Zuckerberg and should now shine on his handlers and consultants for putting him in the situation to begin with.
Yes, SXSW is a great show and a great place for Facebook to be. But if Zuckerberg’s advisors were set on having him speak there they should have at least demanded a polished MC or moderator. Someone who has a good relationship with him but also has the ability to push Mark on his future plans for the company – David Kirkpatrick being my top choice. Facebook has leverage that most companies can only dream of, when agreeing to opportunities like this, because their media spotlight. This is a place where they could have used it to avoid a silly and foolish situation. If Zuckerberg himself was intent on making the appearance then he should have at least come prepared with news to break.
Dave McClure who sat through what he refers to as a “train wreck” has a few hints for Facebook PR Director Brandee Barker, as she continues to run the Facebook PR train (Facebook is currently looking for a VP of communications):
1) Find an interviewer who lets him talk about tech, and how he’s changing the world with it.
2) Find an interviewer who’s ALSO a geek, and can at least relate to him on that level.
McClure has a point and someone like a Kirkpatrick or a John Batelle would be better suited to get Zuckerberg to talk and more importantly sound interesting. Zuckerberg is extremely intelligent and brilliant with computer programming. Maybe the closest thing to Bill Gates as Kirkpatrick himself noted last year:
I have gotten to know him a bit in recent months. He is the closest thing to Bill Gates I’ve seen since the original. Not only does he have natural gifts for programming, leadership, and marketing – traits that served Gates well in Microsoft’s first couple decades. He also, like his industry predecessor, seems mostly driven by a conviction that what he is doing will make the world a better place.
The problem is, the rest of us never get to see it.
Facebook did bring in Bill Clinton’s former speech coach last year to help in Zuckerberg’s public appearances, but there doesn’t appear to be much improvement there when he’s put in new environments with less experienced interviewers. Zuckerberg, for the most part, still comes across as shy and stiff in these environments and his appearances (when not comical like this one) have become slightly less entertaining then watching paint dry.
One would hope that moving forward Facebook understands the importance of matching Zuckerberg with likeminded interviewers or they turn to leveraging Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s new second in command for speaking appearances.