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Post Leadership
Posted at 11:20 AM ET, 02/01/2012

Facebook IPO means new challenges for Mark Zuckerberg with users


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will face a number of challenges with customers once the company goes public. (Eric Risberg - AP)
As Facebook stands set to file for its historic initial public offering, CEO Mark Zuckerberg faces some pretty monumental leadership demands. There are the internal ones: Retaining newly minted millionaires. Keeping employees focused on great products, rather than just high stock prices. Hanging on to a startup vibe and an entrepreneurial feel even as the social network company balloons in size.

But Zuckerberg will also confront a host of tricky challenges with customers, too. For one, the company has long infuriated its users when changes to its privacy policy are made with little fanfare. Because Facebook was a young startup company, users were angry when such modifications took place, but seemed willing to absolve the company and move on. If there’s a sense that such moves are being made solely to increase profits, benefit Wall Street and boost share prices at the expense of customers, however, users could be much less forgiving.

Second, Zuckerberg himself will be faced with a shift in how he’s expected to manage external relations. This is already an extremely wealthy young man who does not exactly have a reputation for being warm and fuzzy. He is about to get exponentially wealthier. Yes, he made a massive gift to education reform and seems a little more willing to open up about his life with the press. But as one of the few, if only, current public company CEOs to have been the star of an unflattering Oscar-winning film about him and the founding of his company, expect Zuckerberg to be asked to do more reaching out to users and the public to help soften his image.

Finally, Zuckerberg could ruffle feathers with users if they’re not let in on the IPO action. When Google went public in 2004, the company held an unusual Dutch auction style IPO that allowed the public to participate, even if the process itself wasn’t very smooth. Some are speculating that Facebook could do the same, or at least do so for its 800 million users. This is a company, after all, whose power is built on the fact that all those millions of people have been willing to post their baby pictures, “like” their favorite businesses and share their most intimate thoughts so that marketers can turn around and advertise to them. You can see how they might like to get something in return.

Being the CEO of a public company is a very different job than being an entrepreneur of a privately held startup. There are requirements from the SEC, of course. But there are also heightened, if less scripted, expectations that you will be more open and transparent with your customers now that you must be so with your public investors, too.  

This is especially the case with Facebook. The company’s power is in its users’ willingness to share, to open up, to tell the world what they are thinking, doing and potentially buying. If Facebook goes public and its CEO doesn’t provide the same kind of transparency with its customers it is now expected to offer its investors, it could be even more troublesome for a company fundamentally built on the premise of sharing.

More from On Leadership:

The challenge of Facebook going public

Mr. Schmidt goes to Washington

PHOTOS | The candidates’ best leadership attributes

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By  |  11:20 AM ET, 02/01/2012

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