When Travic McGinn showed up for an interview at Facebook last year, he was hoping to make slightly more money working in market research than he did at Google, his then-current employer.
Instead, the company surprised him with an unusual request. Would he instead be interested in a job as Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s personal pollster?
He accepted, and before long, he was measuring public opinion on everything from Zuckerberg’s speeches, to Facebook’s association with Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement.
McGinn, who shared his story with the Verge, is only the latest person to suggest that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg might be planning a presidential run in 2020. Zuckerberg has mostly rebuffed questions about his intentions.
When he started the job, McGinn was hopeful that he might be able to change the culture at Facebook. But he quickly became disillusioned when he discovered just how much influence Zuckerberg exerts over the company…and it’s users…
“I joined Facebook hoping to have an impact from the inside,” he says. “I thought, here’s this huge machine that has a tremendous influence on society, and there’s nothing I can do as an outsider. But if I join the company, and I’m regularly taking the pulse of Americans to Mark, maybe, just maybe that could change the way the company does business. I worked there for six months and I realized that even on the inside, I was not going to be able to change the way that the company does business. I couldn’t change the values. I couldn’t change the culture. I was probably far too optimistic.”
As the Verge pointed out, it’s not unusual for companies to conduct polling on executives. For example, Uber board members used polling on former CEO Travis Kalanick to try to persuade him to quit…
Facebook is not unique among tech companies in conducting surveys to gauge perceptions about its brand. Sometimes, those surveys include questions about founders and CEOs. Amid its own crisis last year, Uber surveyed customers on their opinions about the brand and about its former CEO Travis Kalanick. (Perceptions of Kalanick were so negative that the board used the data in an effort to persuade him to quit, according to a report in Bloomberg last month.)
…But it is unusual to hire a full-time staff member dedicated to doing just that.
But it is unusual for a company to have a staff person charged exclusively with monitoring perceptions of its CEO full time. Facebook began monitoring Zuckerberg’s perception about two years ago, a spokesman says. The move reflects his close association with Facebook’s brand and his role as the company’s chief spokesman. Zuckerberg regularly posts announcements on his personal Facebook profile, which has more than 102 million followers. Understanding how Zuckerberg’s posts and speeches resonate globally could help the company navigate a difficult period in which it has faced stern criticism from lawmakers, regulators, journalists, and average users.
Of course, Facebook declined to comment on the story and neither Zuckerberg or Sandberg have said anything. And Zuckerberg has refused to rule out running in the past…