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Sarah Lacy – Why Is It So Hard To Say “I’m Sorry?”
I’ve been thinking recently about how the ability to go "live" may affect many careers. Using the Sarah Lacy/Mark Zuckerberg keynote as our example, I want to share some thoughts with you. Whether you are a blogger or an entrepreneur, the ability to recognize when you’ve screwed up is critical for success.
Unlike those watching from far away, I was actually there in the room, arrived nearly two hours early so I could sit in the front and get ready to live blog the event. I watched the room fill up, people standing along the sides, cropped down, chairs changed to couches and audio tests. The number of cameras snapping photos when Mark came out was simply amazing – in fact it seemed like a press conference with the number of photographers in the pit.
I was very much looking forward to the interview. I heard there would be no new news, so perhaps we could learn more about Facebook’s strategy and monetization plans. This was my second time watching Zuckerberg live; the first was at the half-interview, half-infomercial at TC40 where Zuckerberg announced fbFund.
The truth is that the interview was a disaster. We are past it now so let’s take a look at how it could have been handled better. And how Sarah could have saved face. Sarah was trying to win over the crowd at Mark’s expense. She made many condescending statements towards Mark throughout including her comment about his journals. I have a set of journals Sarah and Om Malik had a series of posts last year about his journals. In addition, Lacy kept repeating "Stahl moment", which was completely out of line. If you know your subject has x or y issue, then you work around it.
I am 100% certain that Sarah had no idea it was going downhill from minute 3. Had she realized what was going on, she would have changed course. I’ve heard reports that her live interview with Kevin Rose also didn’t go so well but I wasn’t there so I can’t comment.
When the crowd started to applaud when Mark said "you’ve got to ask questions" it was actually 45 minutes of growing displeasure with where the interview was moving. I wasn’t on Twitter as I was typing the live notes but I can assure you that the feeling was all around the room and 98% of the audience were not on Twitter. I am guessing that Sarah still didn’t realize what was going on and I absolutely feel horrible for her. Once she realized what was going on, she had two choices: act professionally or act like a young child who didn’t get her way. She chose the latter.
Her comments on stage including, "you try doing what im doing for a living, it’s not as easy as it looks" and "can someone email me and tell me why I sucked so bad", made the situation worse as she threw grease on the fire. When you are on stage and being heckled, just be professional and move on.
When she ran off stage after the keynote was over, she should have relaxed for a bit. After getting some air, she could have looked for feedback. Instead she ran to Twitter and said, "seriously screw all you guys. I did my best to ask a range of things." Not only did she piss off almost the entire audience during the event, she has just told me to fuck-off. Lacy’s Twitter statement makes me realize that I’ve just wasted three hours. These were hours that could have been spent out partying or at my friend’s session.
One of my mentors says, "perception equals reality". It doesn’t matter what’s right when people perceive something else is right. Before, during and after, Sarah had a variety of stopping points in which to change course and save face.
- When she realized that the audience wasn’t pleased and asked for Q/A, she could have just moved to it and not made the "woe is me" comments.
- She didn’t need to post on Twitter.
- She could have easily apologized to those who felt like they didn’t get their money’s worth from the interview.
- She could have posted a simple survey if she was really interested in feedback on what happened.
- When she was interviewed on camera that evening, she could have dropped the defensive bit and just made a simple statement about what happened and apologized.
- Lastly, before the event, she could have asked her readers what they would ask Mark. Instant winner with this one.
Brian Solis has posted a commentary on the situation including the following comment. "If you think she owes you an apology or needs to fall on the sword for her Q&A with Zuckerberg, don’t hold your breath. Sarah Lacy doesn’t need to apologize to anyone other than Mark." Wrong Brian, wrong. We were her customers and when your customers aren’t happy, you apologize and make it right. Customer is #1. Zuckerberg wasn’t the customer.
Here’s the net result and takeaway. When you screw up or your customers believe you have screwed up, apologize. And if you do apologize, mean it. It’s acceptable to admit when you make errors or miscalculations. What’s great about the Web is that we are all willing to help you back up. Just look at how many chances we’ve given Twitter.
As the world moves to "live", we all need a pause button. Blog attacks are so 2007. Today we have live Twitter attacks and outbursts. Who knows which attack or outburst might actually cause you to lose a deal, a client or worse? Keep thinking to yourself, "breathe before reply."
Sarah said on camera that the audience has ruined SXSW for ever getting a high level person again. I’d wonder if Sarah’s will get another chance at a keynote like the one at SXSW after her inability to apologize when her readers and viewers weren’t satisfied.
Sarah can still make it right. She could explain why the interview didn’t work and how she is working on changing for the future. I’d be interested in speaking with Sarah about her learnings, I am sure we could all benefit so we don’t make the same mistakes.