In what was described as a "Town Hall," informal Q&A session, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in his customary gray T-shirt, stood in front of about a hundred internal employees and guests, as well as streaming video attendees from around the world on Thursday. Zuckerberg was joined by virtually the entire Facebook management team, including COO Sheryl Sandberg, CFO David Wehner, and chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, among others.
The objective of the Town Hall (you can watch a replay here) was two-fold: one, as Zuckerberg alluded to when he got the session started, was to answer user's questions. Facebook "friends" were able to ask questions in advance of the discussion, and others would vote on those they felt were most pressing. There were also several questions raised by those at the Facebook facility. Secondly, just as he does during his weekly, internal Q&A meetings with Facebook employees, Zuckerberg and his team use the questions and concerns that arise to drive changes that will enhance the user experience.
A few tangibles
The first question asked, and one of the most popular as measured by the number of "Likes" it received prior to Facebook's Town Hall meeting, was to be expected: "why did you force us to install Messenger?" You may recall a little over three months ago, Facebook pulled the plug on the mobile messaging service via its main site, and required would-be chatters to download Messenger. Change in and of itself is unwelcome to some, but essentially forcing it upon users was, not surprisingly, a tough pill to swallow.
Initially, Zuckerberg responded to the Messenger concerns by relaying the same things we heard when the news was first announced in late July. As quickly as texting is growing, Messenger is faster and provides users with a better experience. However, he did acknowledge that the switch caused a lot of "friction," and that, "we didn't handle the transition to Messenger as smoothly as we could have." Whether that placated disgruntled texters is debatable, but with over 1.1 billion mobile users, and over 200 million on Messenger before the forced switch, any remaining angst will likely be short-lived.
Another question was as predictable as the first: why did Facebook opt to narrow the organic reach of posts? The concern, particularly for business owners who use their free Facebook page as a marketing tool, also caused an uproar, much like forcing users to download Messenger. Zuckerberg made a couple of interesting points, however, noting that the average Newsfeed contains about 1,500 posts, of which only about a hundred are actually viewed. Facebook's plan, much like its advertising strategy, isn't about volume via organic reach, it's about "relevancy."
Zuckerberg added that Facebook is continuing to work on new and better ways to target relevant posts to the right people, which also addressed another question that arose involving "information overload." Facebook is working on ways to make it easier to narrow the scope of what a user sees, beyond the sometimes cumbersome filters that are currently available. Zuckerberg reiterated his goal of making Facebook, "The perfect, personalized newspaper for everyone all over the world."
A few intangibles
There were also several less tangible, but no less intriguing, aspects to Facebook's Town Hall session. For instance, a question was raised about Facebook's plans for connecting the world using drones, and Zuckerberg's change in demeanor was instantaneous: He looked like a kid in an all-you-can-eat candy store. Though it will, "take a long time, best case is about 10 years from now," the Internet.org initiative is clearly more than a whim. Zuckerberg's plans to bring Internet connectivity to the over 5 billion currently without isn't just a nice talking point, it's an obsession.
It became abundantly clear that Sandberg is a key component, perhaps the key component, of Zuckerberg's management team. As Zuckerberg put it, "I don't know all the answers, we're building this together." In addition to Sandberg responding to a question about importance of diversity, Zuckerberg looked to Sandberg on multiple occasions for input. Some might find that worrisome, but on the contrary, great leaders know what they don't know, and surround themselves with people that do: Sandberg is one of those people.
Facebook's first of many Town Hall sessions wasn't for industry analysts or writers (my question about his 10-year plan was overlooked), it was to give and to get information from Facebook users. An informal Q&A may seem like a minor thing to some, but an open and honest management team bodes well for a company, and, just as importantly, its shareholders.