If you read technology and marketing blogs or follow Twitter, chances are good you've heard some of the fuss about Sarah Lacy's interview of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at yesterday's South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin. I spent the afternoon watching Twitter users unleash an absolute tirade against Lacy during the interview, which left me wondering what was going on. After having read numerous blog posts, news stories and watching several video clips, I realized what the fuss was all about. As always, there's something to be learned from failure.

In this case, that something is four valuable social media lessons. After all, what is an interview if not social media being acted out in real life? As I read the critiques and complaints on Lacy's performance as the keynote interviewer, I noticed many of the same mistakes I see popping up in poorly executed social media marketing campaigns.

With that in mind, here are four key mistakes Sarah Lacy made during her interview, each summed up with a valuable lesson you should take to heart before embarking on your next social media marketing campaign.

Mistake #1 - Not Being Interested in What People are Saying

It's interesting to watch the video clip of the interview at Austin360.com. Lacy's body language makes it pretty clear that she either suffers from RLS or spends most of the time Zuckerberg is talking waiting for her chance to talk again. She plugs her book multiple times and makes mention of her TV show. Lacy rarely looks interested in what Zuckerberg has to say; she fidgets almost non-stop, strikes quite a few "I'm bored" postures and generally gives off a fairly impatient vibe.

We see this problem repeated by companies online when they barge into social media sites in the hopes of selling rather than listening. They see social media as an opportunity to talk themselves up. To make themselves look witty, intelligent and "cooler" than the audience they're trying to reach. Companies often forget that social media (like an interview) is about fostering conversation and providing the opportunity for someone else to be the center of attention.

Lesson: Social media is about asking the right questions and planting the right seeds, then stepping out of the limelight and letting other people have the conversation

Mistake #2 - Acting too Familiar with Your Audience

Throughout the interview, Lacy made multiple comments designed to make it sound like she and Zuckerberg were old friends. She said things like "one thing a lot of people don't know about Mark" and "so you still do this, right?" preceding questions. On more than one occasion, she shared fairly embarrassing stories of the first time she interviewed Zuckerberg. Caroline McCarthy of CNET writes:

Lacy went into a mildly humiliating story about the first time she interviewed Zuckerberg and was surprised to see how socially awkward he was, and related that he'd said, "That's really hard" when she asked him to say more than two words at a time. It was the first of several "embarrassing story about another time when I interviewed Mark" anecdotes that Lacy went into throughout the talk.

This can work if you actually are that close with your audience, but it comes off as disingenuous when you do it with someone you aren't actually close with. Sure, Lacy has intereviewed Zuckerberg on multiple occasions, but it's not like they're best buddies. To many in the SXSW audience, it came off as condescending and rude.

Lesson: While social media is about being social, assuming too familiar of a relationship too soon can turn off your target audience.

Mistake #3 - Speaking For (and Over) Your Customers

One of the biggest complaints about Lacy's interview was how much time she spent talking. One highly blogged moment came when she spent several minutes talking about how Zuckerberg keeps hand written journals of his ideas for the company. She described the process in great detail, as if to lead Zuckerberg into conversation. Unfortunately for Lacy, she made the mistake of telling so much of the story there was nothing left for Zuckerberg to tell. When she prompted him to talk, he responded "Well you have to ask a question."

Zuckerberg's response got a huge round of applause. Quite a few bloggers reported audience members were buzzing at how frequently Lacy interrupted Zuckerberg while he was speaking. On one occasion she spoke right over him, then stopped, noting the look on his face.

Attendees were also upset Lacy didn't allow more questions from the audience. After all, SXSW attracts a fairly savvy, intelligent crowd every bit as capable of asking probing questions as a journalist. Had Lacy thought ahead, she would have used a service like Twitter or (duh) Facebook to gather up questions from people attending which would have ensured she'd be asking questions of interest to the audience.

Lesson: Listen more than you talk. In fact, listen a LOT more than you talk. Assume your customers know as much (or more) as you do.

Mistake #4 - Failing to Admit When You've Screwed Up

Lacy showed up on Twitter not long after the interview with this gem.


Shortly before writing this, I stumbled across a video interview of her on YouTube that was taken at SXSW after the now infamous interview. Listen to the tone of her response and the spin she tries to put on what happened:

Lacy makes a common mistake in that clip. She refuses to acknowledge she made a mistake and she spends time trying to spin the incident to place the blame on other people. She cites her credentials and experience over and over again, mostly in an attempt to discredit her critics and to convince the viewer she did everything right.

This is exactly what we see happen with many companies when it comes to their first social media screw up. When Sony was caught using a fake blog to market the PSP, their initial reaction was to try and deny the accusations. Doing so made them look even worse, because now the public saw them as fakers and liars.

I wrote about the need to own up to your social media mistakes back in my Hide and Speak series. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if YOU think you screwed up. If the audience thinks you screwed up, you did. Their perception becomes your reality.

Lesson: If the majority says you screwed up, you screwed up. Admit fault, apologize sincerely and work to remedy the problem.

When it comes to any type of conversation, be it a social media conversation or an interview of the youngest billionaire in the world before an audience of techies, it's essential to remember where the focus should lie. Stop worrying about talking yourself up and start worrying about how to spark conversation in others. Then sit back, be quiet and listen.

March 10, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


After watching the interview on YouTube it's clear that she thinks she's pretty hot and is accustomed to being the center of attention.

Women like her get pissed when guys don't fall all over them. Maybe if she lost 20 pounds?

First of all, Tim - you can disagree with Lacy without commenting on her weight.

Secondly, to Jennifer - great points and takeaways. I think this is where traditional PR can come in and offer their tips on being poised and having a good presentation.

I do disagree with the idea that the statement on how she should base her opinion of what happened on what the majority says. Certainly majorities have had their ability to be wrong in the history of man.

When you read what people are saying about Lacy, it is like the pot calling the kettle black.


I'm with you on the weight thing. Absolutely ridiculous to me. If you want to comment on someone's actions, attitude, etc, that's cool. But don't talk about how she seems stuck up because she thinks she's hot, then say she needs to lose weight. It makes you look as shallow as you claim she is.

On the other hand, I disagree with you about the perception=reality thing. Yes, you're right in that the majority can be wrong about things, but when it comes to a matter of opinion...i.e. "did I do a good job" perception really is reality. She may have thought she was doing just fine, but the audience she was there to represent did not.

Is that her fault, or the fault of the folks who picked her to do the interview? I'm not sure...but I guarantee she would have had a better reaction and a better recovery if she'd apologized and genuinely aimed to fix it instead of getting angry and defensive.

Ah the joys of the internet. If you put yourself out there, prepare to get critized. Some people simply do not know how to handle it. Shame she didn't recognize what she did right and wrong in her efforts. You must be able to take constructive criticism to be respected.

Tim, I take it you like your birds kate Moss esque. Time to put down Maxim and meet some real women.

This is all schadenfreude. The video is cringeville central sure, but what is the Zuck going to say that differs from press releases and the corporate line? I mean it's not like he is a steller public speaker.

Saying all that, she was baaaad. But I see this false "chummy" behaviour online constantly from people grubbing for attention.

I'm parting with the pack on this one. The interview could have been better, but it wasn't really that bad at all.

In fact, I think it was Zuckerberg who acted with poor taste by calling out that she needs to ask a question. He could have simply elaborated or clarified what she was talking about without ruining the interview.

What people don't realize is how many things could go wrong behind the scenes. If she and Mark truly prepared for the interview as she described, and then something got changed last minute, this could explain how uncomfortabnle she looks. True, it is her job to handle those kind of things with grace, but it takes practice and experience.

My point is, problems often come with the territory and mishaps don't need to be amplified by a guest with bad manners. She probably just needed some time to get the interview back on track, but Zuckerburg kept it in the mud. He seemed like he was on the defensive after her question of the companies worth. This was actually an opportunity for him, not an insult, in my opinion.

One should also keep in mind that the audience at SXSW is not her only audience. I don't think her post-interview video is spin at all... her amazon stuff is up, her facebook fan page has grown, she has obviously connected with a whole new audience that doesn't agree with the criticism. I've become a fan precisely because of her attitude about the whole thing. Is this really bad marketing on her part? I don't think so.

I think she did fairly well given the circumstances, and it's only this mob mentality that thinks she is the only one to blame for a less than stellar interview.

Well if it was Sarah or Mark that strayed from the "plan" it still was terrible painful to watch. Nothing new was really gained from this interview and her attitude on twitter and the interview clip outside SXSW shows her true class.

I agree with Tim. Stupid --- -----. But I also think Mark Suckerberg doesn't deserve all the attention. Some people get lucky, some people use skill, experience and logical thinking to earn success. He got lucky.

Guys, it does not matter at all who gave attention and who was resting carefree. Hope Lacy would take this as constructive criticism = feedback to improve. And I don't agree with the luck factor. Yeah, luck does matter but luck alone cannot fetch you the billion dollar and you cannot be in the industry without any skill whether it is technical or entrepreneurial...

The biggest problem I had with the interview was that Lacy didn't understand her audience. Notice how many times she brought up questions about Facebook's valuation and management. She was positioning the interview as if readers of Business Week were the audience, instead of Facebook's users, who are concerned over privacy and advertising issues.

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