A former top Microsoft exec has some advice for Facebook on dealing with public attacks

Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg

Former Microsoft exec Steven Sinofsky knows what Facebook is going through.

He was at the giant when it was the undisputed leader of the tech industry, and when sentiment turned against the company and everybody — from federal regulators to competitors to the press — was attacking it.

Now Facebook is going through a similar phase. A couple years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was viewed as a wonder-kid genius who had built a tech company worth hundreds of billions in less than a decade, and was making a well-studied turn into philanthropy.

Then came the 2016 presidential election. Facebook users watched as their feeds were filled with polarizing political posts, including fake news and ads, including some that the company later admitted were bought by Russians in an attempt to influence the election.

Now, the company is being forced to testify before various committees on Capitol Hill about the Russian ads, and Zuckerberg is getting raked over the coals for tone-deaf moves like showing flood-stricken Puerto Rico to demonstrate its virtual reality platform. All the while, commentators slam it for being too powerful and insufficiently apologetic, calling it one of the “Four Horsemen” or “Frightful Five.”

Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg

Sinofsky captures the disorienting feeling Facebook employees probably have right now, where they thought they were on top of the world and can’t quite figure out why everybody suddenly seems to hate them.

As he put it, “We were just trying to make software. The more ppl said we were trying to be bad and do harm the wider the gap became. Surreal to us.”

But he says this is a normal part of the growing-up process for companies, and he offered some recommendations on how Facebook could handle it using a framework called Tuckman’s stages of group development.

In the end, he’s confident Facebook and other social networks will make it through the other side.

Here’s the tweet storm:

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

1/ Thinking about social networks and calls to be more responsible. Much to unpack about how companies mature. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-facebook/facebook-will-help-investigators-release-russia-ads-sandberg-tells-axios-idUSKBN1CG2GM 

Photo published for Facebook will help investigators release Russia ads, Sandberg tells Axios

Facebook will help investigators release Russia ads, Sandberg tells Axios

Facebook Inc (FB.O) Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said on Thursday the company was fully committed to helping U.S. congressional investigators publicly release Russia-backed political ads…

reuters.com

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

2/ Regarding election hacking, abuse, more—specifics are awful. Need addressing. Want to offer thoughts more broadly—how companies evolve.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

3/ Personally, can’t help but think of three similar waves of criticism in my own journey: product quality, anti-trust, security.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

4/ Each of these “eras” faced similar pattern of almost “this is a feature not a bug”. Deeper the criticism the more disconnected we became.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

5/ PC software used to barely work—buggy. Was always very late to market—vaporware. Then as public company scrutiny changes dramatically.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

6/ Not just places like FTC but Biz customers writing large checks. Wall St used to track “release dates ±”, but your brain as Co matures.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

7/ Anti-trust almost legendary in disconnect of early response from broader “tone”. We were literally perplexed—we’re just “innovating”.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

8/ We were just trying to make software. The more ppl said we were trying to be bad and do harm the wider the gap became. Surreal to us.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

9/ Again, get out there listen, learn, empathize, (and lose)—you change perspectives as you begin to understand—your own role changes.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

10/ Security was the same thing. Viruses/Malware were just part of computing. Ppl need to take personal responsibility we thought.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

11/ Then you see real dollar costs and realize not just a problem to be addressed but an opportunity. You see biz value in responsibility.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

12/ btw, very similar to SPAM and unsolicited mail. At time, actually argued in court wasn’t our job got fix. Wrong. We (and Google) fixed.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

13/ What’s the pattern? We talk all the time about startup and teams formation. There are phases to growth and learning. Almost routine.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

14/ Reality, a company follows growth cycle too—not just the individuals but the company itself as a member of a broader member of society.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

15/ A framework to use is Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development: storming, forming, norming, performing. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckman%27s_stages_of_group_development 

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

16/ Essence is “you can’t expect a team to perform out of the gate”—likewise, can’t expect Company to fully grok world’s collective view.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

17/ As w/individuals, Cos need to be allowed to learn, grow, change as institutions. Especially true if they do what didn’t exist before!!

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

18/ Storming: no idea how to do anything. Every day magical when product does anything or you sell something—outside doesn’t pay attention!

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

19/ Forming: ok a little bit of traction—some things are repeated. Mostly though product isn’t collapsing and does what *you* want it to.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

20/ Norming: product market fit. People have roles in an organization. Outside world (early adopters!) understand/agree with first mission.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

21/ Performing: phase where you can absorb new inputs and begin to adapt to the impacts of your product in market. New customers (‘humans’).

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

22/ Thing is you don’t go through this once, but many times. That’s a real challenge. It is constantly like the ground is moving under you.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

23/ That’s because as you continue to grow, new customers/stakeholders develop higher/revised expectations of role and assume you know that.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

24/ But you’re not adapting as fast b/c whole time you are one “development stage” offset from new problems just trying to keep wheels on!

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

25/ Then company reaches a stage beyond “thinking of everything as existential threat” to full-time engagement learning/listening/acting.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

26/ Ultimate goal is to get ahead of these challenges or at very least learn to avoid your “forming” stage first reaction.

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

27/ My personal reaction to a quality problem, a regulator, legal risk is SOOO different now than 25 years ago. Companies go through same.

Twitter Ads info and privacy

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

 @stevesi

Replying to @stevesi

28/ Long way of saying that I am completely confident social networks will see through these challenges and more. No question. // END

 Follow

🎃 Steven Sinofsky ॐ

@stevesi

PS/ Worth remembering newspapers, television, telephones were once disruptive tech and worked to solve abuse, hacking, misuse, crimes, etc.