Photo: Wikimedia Commons
George W. Bush met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook HQ last week in what was described by the former President as “shamelessly marketing” his new book. That’s it? If Bush was hoping to hock his book in front of a portion of Facebook’s over half a billion users he wasn’t even close – only receiving 6,500 viewers to the webcast . A better question is what in the world was Facebook trying to accomplish?I would surmise that Facebook and its founder had a lot to gain from meeting with the former president. Facebook just announced that it is expanding its Washington lobbying operation. A wise move in the face of ever growing privacy criticism and legislation aimed at protecting the online consumers which Facebook services. Advocacy requires manpower and a company like Facebook is wise to finally beef that up. But advocacy also requires a voice for these newly hired lobbyists. Facebook and its CEO have been on the defensive for months now answering Washington and the media’s questions regarding their status as a growing company which can protect or harm the internet consumer depending on their ever changing policies. What is their voice in reaction to this?
“It just comes with the territory. When you’re president, or when you’re a successful CEO, you get criticised,” was one nugget of leadership advice that Bush offered Zuckerberg. Instructing the CEO that if you believe in what you are doing then criticism means nothing.
Bush’s narrative – a leader who continued with what he believed despite mounting criticism is an association worthwhile for Facebook, an organisation which believes they too are doing what is right despite criticism. But isn’t Bush still an unpopular public figure? Why would a company associate with an unpopular figure?
The benefit to the Bush association reaps dividends in their voice to legislators who are sympathetic to the former President – conservatives. A year ago such a meeting with Bush would have been panned, but now, with conservatives sweeping state houses and Congress, such a meeting is a savvy preemptive advocacy move which will likely open many doors. Conservative legislators considering using their new gavels to investigate Facebook will likely not forget this meeting and its obvious undertone that criticism doesn’t mean an individual or company is necessarily guilty.
I don’t know if President Bush sold any books but Facebook likely gained some powerful friends with a clever association that should give their lobbyists something to talk to legislators about in the coming year.
The meeting is already having an impact. Yesterday’s 60 minutes interview brought up privacy, lobbyists, congressional investigations and the FTC – Zuckerberg sounded downright “Bushy” in his response:
“Now, do we get it right all the time? No! But it’s something that we take really seriously, and every day we come to work and just try to do a good job on this.”
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