Sheryl Sandberg lecture: LSE

Sheryl Sandberg from Wikimedia Commons
This is a liveblog of the lecture by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, conducted at the LSE on Wednesday 25 May 2011. There’s not much in the way of connectivity here, so I’m taking notes and will upload this later. I’ll keep timestamping content as appropriate but generally this will be a post-event record.

6:05pm We’re getting started here at the absolutely packed Sheikh Zayed Theatre. Charlie Beckett introduces Sandberg. Charlie notes that POLIS is celebrating its 5th year next week. Facebook is only 2 years older than POLIS – it’s made more money and friends but only becaiuse it has a 2 year start.

6:09pm Sandberg notes that over 30M people in the UK are members of Facebook. When she studied economics, she had to run regression analysis activities in a convoluted fashion – ending up crashing the Harvard system. Zuckerberg did the same thing later, but they made a movie out of the time he did it.

She notes that she is old enough to remember the time “before the internet” (JJ’s comment: presume she means before the WWW). The early days of the web were information based, and while there has been some innovation, there hasn’t been that much. Most recent revolution is the shift from information retrieval to social discovery. This is the birth of the social web.

When you go on to Facebook you aren’t necessarily looking for a subject matter – you’re receptive to comment. We live our lives in social discovery, not in information seeking, necessarily. The information web isn’t dying, it’s just being augmented.

Facebook is a phenomenon which exemplifies the shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends. This is a shift from the what to the who.

Very short, very real time information sharing can be profound – Facebook and twitter have discovered that.

Sandberg tells the story of her communication with friends through a monthly summary. Her friends have shifted to a Facebook group, and she finds the shorter communication system is actually deeper – she can see the personal aspects of their lives.

Sandberg tells another story of the opportunity to help others, where the invisible victim becomes visible. She tells stories of people in critical, life-threatening situations, and showing how this is humanising (rather than dehumanising).

Facebook is not one community but millions of small communities. Individuals are given a new kind of voice – one they have not had before. What used to be only possible for the rich and powerful is possible for everyone. Over the voices these individual voices grow louder and louder.

In 2003 Cadbury pulled the Whisper bar off the shelves. 4 years later in 2007 a fan put up a page demanding the return of the whisper bar. That was followed by petitions and public demonstrations. Cadbury later brought the bar back and it changed their performance. But collective action can be far more serious. Responses to terrorist activities have happened in the uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt. The exact same technology used to poke each other was also used to reclaim their countries.

Sandberg is eager not to take responsibility for the action, and focuses on the opportunities of the tools.

The social web not just good for organising reaction against dictatorial governments, but also for positive action on local issues. Sandberg says the technology facilitates 2 way communication between government representatives and the public. She uses the example of the Obama campaign to describe the changes in fundraising and citizen mobilisation.

She says there is greater engagement in public life across the world. She notes that the last UK election was a 2 screen election.

[JJ’s comment: Frankly it was the first *screen* election given UK had never had debates on TV before.]

Sandberg goes on to describe brand presence in Facebook. Every single day 15 million people connect, and 50 million people ‘Like’ a page. Marketers have always known that the best form of advocacy is friend-to-friend. So Facebook is uniquely suited to growing armies of advocates.

Samsung got 7 million impressions on Facebook prior to the launchof the Galaxy Tablet in the UK. They used facebook as a brand advocacy system to generate buzz and interest.

Big name fashion labels now broadcast their fashion parades on Facebook. And small businesses are finding opportunities to connect with networks of advocates {JJ’s comment: harder for small businesses to get traction though].

Sandberg noted that the Black Friday innovation for small businesses (that focused on a collective of small businesses) massively increased brand awareness over the Black Saturday period.

Sandberg goes on to talk about Facebook and privacy. She notes that individuals have the ability to control more information about themselves and about what they share. [[JJ’s comment: true but not sure that level of awareness among those who share is adequate, nor is the ability to share at any point of time necessarily for perpetuity].

Sandberg discusses photos and games. She notes that Facebook is the largest photo sharing site as well as the most successful gaming site online. She believes that the social design of Facebook impacts on all other industries. She cites the impact of friend networks on health, including predicting the spread of disease, as well as the development of long-term health problems such as obesity.

Corporate philanthropy has been disrupted by social-by-design too. She cites examples of microloans and the success of new business lending.

She says that all industries will be affected by social design. For Facebook the transition is exciting. [JJ’s comment: not sure the financial trading markets will be quite so excited.]

She says the human desire for connection is the most important outcome of this world that is “all about people”.

6:45 Beckett notes he will soon open the floor to questions. But he begins with a question on literacies. He asks what he thinks needs to happen so that people can enjoy the happy prospect of what facebook has to offer.

Sandberg says reform of education. If it was hard to be illiterate 20 years ago, it’s even harder now. Education is key to making sure that people have the chance to participate. She notes that making content available to the masses in the real world – democratisation of access – is crucial to ensure participation.

1st question from the floor: what’s Facebook’s plans for China?
2nd Q: What is facebook’s role in the world?

Answers 1 & 2: Exploring how to work with China. Facebook is supposed to be about empowerig the world to do with what they want to do.

Q3: Why did you need to hire someone to seed poor stories about Google?
q4: If your circle of friends are reinforcing prejudices is there not a danger that you become an amplifyer of the wrong message?
Q5: How do you see the Facebook attitude to privacy versus openness and advocacy (often brand advocacy).

A3: We were trying to get reporters to focus on a serious issue of privacy breaches in Google. Found that the non-transparent manner was unsuccessful but still feel the issue is important.

A4: Facebook believes amplification of voice over time increases understanding not decreasing it.

A5: Sandberg says privacy really important to Facebook. As an individual, there are some things you want to share with everyone and some that you only want to share with a small group. Groups are changing the control over information. [JJ’s comment – huge implications over illusion of control over an extended period].

Sandberg says that she feels people are becoming more sophisticated users.

Charlie does a quick straw poll of users of Facebook and those who are concerned about Facebook – clear that the majority are concerned.

Q6: What are Facebook’s clear streams of revenue? What keeps you awake at night?

Q7: RE: Global Network Initiative, questioning role of American companies in non-democratic countries. Are Facebook going to sign up to the initiative? Do you have a responsibility for privacy and security of data?

Q8: Who owns the content of my Facebook page?

A8: Facebook stores it, but users own their own photos.

A6: Facebook make revenue from advertising. They prove to advertisers through metrics the value of advertising on Facebook. Most concerned about getting things wrong when it comes to changes in what they do.

A7: Familiar with Global Network initiative. Wasn’t trying to duck the question of access in China – truth is only intermittently available. Genuinely don’t know how to make Facebook fully accessible in China.

In terms of security of data, Facebook is sophisticated and aggressive in its protection of account data.

Q9: In California, Disney workers making less than $7/hour. What will Facebook do to protect the people under their nose?

Q10: Will an IPO change the innovation at Facebook?

Q11: Several news sources citing a new tech bubble. Are you worried you will have a sudden inflation of value?

A9: Happy to get the Disney staffer on to the right people at the company – can’t comment as the Board doesn’t make decisions on helathcare about its staff.

A10: Doesn’t think the IPO will change innovation. Biggest challenge is to work out how much to listen to the users.

A11: Don’t currently have to worry about value as facebook a private company. Won’t need to worry till it happens.

Q12: Facebook considered to be a huge time waster. How do you control how employees use Facebook?

Q13: What have you found to be the most effective means of changing from small tech company to global enterprise?

Q14: What do you see the role of weak ties and algorithms as a means of influencing others?

A12: Facebook employees use their own product as product development. They use it as a productivity tool.

A13: Have seen massive cultural change in both Google and Facebook. It’s important to acknowledge and talk about rapid change. Understanding the challenges of communication very important. Facebook wants to be a company about new code and new products not resting on the current platform. They do that by keeping the teams small, to enable rapid prototyping.

A14: Facebook thinks there are times when you want more personal advocacy and more wisdom of crowds – Facebook needs to facilitate both systems of advocacy.

Q15: What about twitter? Is twitter better for news?

Q16: What’s next for Facebook?

Q17: Internet companies now making decisions that used to be taken by states in terms of organisation of action groups.

A15: Increasingly think that journalists should use both Facebook and twitter. Curation of ideas can augment social channels for news reporting.

A16: Not making any announcements today – but will make photos easier to use.

A17: Don’t have a revolutionary strategy – just interested in what can happen.

Q18: What has to change in terms of attitudes to permanency of content posted to facebook?

Q19: How much does it motivate you to kill Google?

Q20: How does facebook make decisions about what information to share with advertisers?

A18: You can delete content on Facebook. There are going to need to be attitudinal changes and the employers of the next generation will provide spaces for inappropriate personal content online.

A19: Sandberg says Facebook is not ‘going after’ Google. She finds most motivating the possibility of creating connections between people in need, or people who have traditionally been in conflict. She cites as a visualisation of connections made in the last 24 hours. Actually believes it’s harder to shoot people you know, so connections matter.

A20: Notes that Facebook has no information that is not voluntarily shared. Facebook gives no information on individuals to advertisers. Facebook is the mediator between an advertiser and a demographic. They control how the ad is shown. No personal info goes to advertisers.

Q21: Does Facebook have a corporate responsibility to provide internet access?

Q22: When are we going to be seen as people, not commodities?

Q23: Would Facebook ever deploy facial recognition?

A21: Care a lot about ensuring access on all mobile devices. No real plan to provide access.

A22: Have talked to users about whether users would prefer to use ads or move to a subscription model. Users want a free service.

A23: Have done some work on facial recognition and still working on that.

Charlie thanks Linklaters for supporting the public lectures, and presents Sandberg with an LSE hat to say thank you for speaking.

[HUGE applause]

Sandberg presents Charlie with a Facebook jacket.


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