This Team Runs Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Page
When Facebook went public five years ago, the world had a pretty vivid picture of who Mark Zuckerberg was. As much as anything, that image was of Jesse Eisenberg’s fictionalized performance as Zuckerberg in The Social Network: an intense, socially inept kid billionaire who always wore a hoodie, whether he was meeting with financiers or trying to screw a co-founder in court. Over the past couple of years, Zuckerberg has made a concerted effort to steer his image in a different direction.
Near the end of 2014, he began holding Q&A sessions with groups of people wherever he was traveling around the world, fielding softballs ranging from lessons on startup-building to his favorite pizza toppings. Those town halls have evolved into near-daily posts on Zuckerberg’s own Facebook page, mixing news of company milestones with personal epiphanies, soft-focus photos from his life as a new dad, and responses to user comments. “What he’s learned over the last two years is that his image in the digital domain needs to be controlled,” says David Charron, who teaches entrepreneurship at the University of California at Berkeley. “And he’s simply growing up.”
Zuckerberg has help, lots of it. Typically, a handful of Facebook employees manage communications just for him, helping write his posts and speeches, while an additional dozen or so delete harassing comments and spam on his page, say two people familiar with the matter. Facebook also has professional photographers snap Zuckerberg, say, taking a run in Beijing or reading to his daughter. Among them is Charles Ommanney, known most recently for his work covering the refugee crisis for the Washington Post. Company spokeswoman Vanessa Chan says Facebook is an easy way for executives to connect with various audiences.
While plenty of chief executive officers have image managers, the scale of this team is something different. So is its conflation of Zuckerberg’s personal image with that of his company, the diaper-changing photos next to the user growth stats. “I don’t know that there are a lot of other business leaders that would find the same level of comfort sharing their personal and business stuff in the way that he does,” says Fred Cook, director of the University of Southern California Center for Public Relations, who has worked with Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs.
Facebook’s a little different in that respect. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has used her page to discuss workplace inequality and her husband’s sudden death. And within Facebook, it’s an article of faith that Zuckerberg’s image is pretty much synonymous with the company’s, employees say. If people think Zuckerberg is innovative and charming, so is Facebook. That may help explain the PR team’s more ambitious recent efforts to compare the CEO to Iron Man.
In December, Zuckerberg, his wife, his baby daughter, his parents, and his dog all appeared in a series of videos dramatizing his yearlong effort to create a smart-home device akin to Amazon.com’s Echo. Zuckerberg dubbed the project Jarvis, as in the AI butler that Robert Downey Jr. uses in the Marvel movies.
The Facebook team shot one video from Zuckerberg’s POV, one from that of his wife, Priscilla Chan, and one from that of Jarvis, voiced by Morgan Freeman. There are some cringeworthy moments, including the one after Zuckerberg asks Jarvis to play a good Nickelback song, and Freeman’s voice says there aren’t any.
Groans notwithstanding, the PR blitz seems to be working. Zuckerberg’s posts typically get at least a couple hundred thousand shares; the Jarvis video clocked more than a million. USC’s Cook says his 18-year-old son follows Zuckerberg and reported that “he seems like a regular guy.” “If an 18-year-old thinks he’s coming across in an authentic way, that’s really something,” says Cook.
Jarvis was Zuckerberg’s personal challenge for 2016. His stated goal this year is to travel to all 50 U.S. states and improve his understanding of their communities. (By contrast, in 2011 his goal was to eat meat only if he’d killed it himself.) The CEO is also spending more time meeting with diplomats and beginning to figure out how to invest 99 percent of his personal fortune—about $2 billion in cash and other assets, plus $52 billion in Facebook stock—in philanthropic causes.
With all that in mind, it’s fair to wonder whether Zuckerberg wants to run for public office. He isn’t saying, but his online mix of serious business and dad jokes can’t help but feel a little political. For a point of comparison, check out Barack Obama’s social media accounts sometime.
The bottom line: There are more than a dozen Facebook employees writing Mark Zuckerberg’s posts or scouring the comments for spammers and trolls.