Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg has never been known for giving iconic speeches.
Put simply, he's a bit of a mysterious figure. The awkward billionaire hidden within a hooded sweatshirt says as little as possible, letting the direction he leads his company do the talking for him.
That made it a bit surprising when the CEO last month not only held a question and answer session for about 150 people -- regular folks, not members of the media -- at his company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, but allowed the talk to be posted online. Zuckerberg was candid, albeit guarded, and offered some insight into how the company operates -- including answering one of the questions asked most frequently by users of the social-media site: Will Facebook add a "dislike" button?
"There are more sentiments that people want to express than just positivity or that they like something," he said. " ... People tell us that that don't feel comfortable pressing like because like isn't the appropriate sentiment."
Zuckerberg endorsed the idea of giving people ways to express more emotions, but he suggested a direct "dislike" button might not be the way to go.
"We need to figure out the right way to do it so it's a force for good and not a force for bad demeaning the posts people are putting out there," he said.
The event was billed as Facebook's second-ever community town hall discussion. Zuckerberg was alone on stage and wore a gray T-shirt, forgoing the hoodie. The CEO said the public session mirrored weekly Q&A events held for employees. He took questions from the audience in the room and answered some of the most popular ones asked of him online.
Here are some additional takeaways from the event.
Facebook wants to listen
"It's a really important way that I learn from ouremployees and what they're thinking about," Zuckerberg said. "...That gives me valuable information, our management team important information that can help us build better things and run the company better."
The CEO stressed that he saw the employee sessions as an important part of the company's culture. He also explained that the public Q&A was a way to extend that thinking and learn what people outside of Facebook are thinking.
That's an important admission for a leader and a brand that have often acted without any regard to what users might want. Facebook has always been willing to make big changes without consulting users, so giving customers a voice shows maturity.
Zuckerberg did not promise to always do what users want, and the example of the dislike button shows that consumer desire should not be the sole driving factor for change. But he pledged to listen, which is a big step that could help the company avoid angering its user base as it has done in the past.
Facebook does not see its users as wasting time
Zuckerberg addressed the notion that Facebook has become associated with goofing off and wasting time. He explained that school has taught us that you do your work first, then you socialize.
"People think, 'I need to get all my work done before I can focus on my friendships or family,'" he said. "I think that that's wrong."
Zuckerberg said he sees the relationships coming first, and Facebook as a way to facilitate people staying connected.
"I think it's kind of sad that people in our society think that trying to spend time building relationships and knowing what's going on with the people around you is considered wasting time." he said.
Facebook wants to help business
In addition to focusing on growing the business, Zuckerberg said the company spends a lot of time thinking about how other companies -- especially small businesses -- can use the social-media site to grow. He talked specifically about helping with customer acquisition and generating sales for the over 30 million companies that have a Facebook page.
The CEO added that he saw local businesses as an important part of the Facebook ecosystem, because people interact with neighborhood shops and restaurants in way that is similar to how people interact with friends and family.
"Local businesses and the shops that you go to, where you go get food," he said, "are really important."
Zuckerberg said Facebook provides a channel for those smaller businesses to connect with new and existing customers in a way that can be beneficial to both the company and its patrons.
Those comments are in line with how Facebook has changed its system to allow more free communication between small companies and their followers, while bigger brands with larger audiences face much heavier throttling (a smaller percentage of their fans see posted messages). This allows small companies to grow and forces larger businesses to pay up if they want to take advantage of Facebook's tools.
In some ways that speaks to what Zuckerberg said, as a person is more likely to have a friend-like, intimate relationship with a local shop than a national brand.