Facebook’s Lobbying Operations 'Built for Battle'
The single biggest threat to Facebook's business model might be the stroke of a federal bureaucrat's pen. So, with its roadshow underway and hopes for a giant IPO on May 18, the social media giant has been sending friend requests all over Washington.
The prime objective? Keep the government from imposing stricter privacy laws that could restrict how Facebook collects information about users—and what it does with all that data.
"There's nothing cute about [Facebook's] lobbying operation," writes Politico's Michelle Quinn. "Its D.C. shop has been built for battle."
So, what would your strategy be if you had an almost unlimited budget, an insane valuation, and a wildly popular but controversial product?
Here are the five keys to how Facebook hopes to keep the government off its back:
1. Recruit heavy hitters.
Facebook's team members were well-known in political circles long before they joined the social network's lobbying network.
The head of the company's Washington office, Joel Kaplan, was a member of President George W. Bush's staff. The point person in its dealings with the U.S. House of Representatives was an aide to Speaker of the House John Boehner. Erskine Bowles, a former White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton, and Don Graham, the chairman of the Washington Post, are on its board of directors. And its chief operating officer, Cheryl Sandberg, was chief of staff to the secretary of the treasury under Clinton.
Of course, Facebook isn't alone in playing the known-name game. In February, Google named former Congresswoman Susan Molinari to head its Washington lobbying and policy office.
2. Play both sides.
According to Politico, Facebook is the first pre-IPO tech company to have its own political action committee. Moreover, its key people have spread the wealth, so to speak, by donating to the campaigns of President Obama, likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney, and Congressman Ron Paul.
3. Become indispensable.
The same people Facebook lobbies in Washington are often among its users. It's virtually impossible to imagine running a political campaign now without making Facebook a central part of your online strategy.
"It has hosted congressional leaders and their aides at its Washington office and its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters," Quinn reported. "It hosted so-called Young Guns from House GOP leadership as well as President Barack Obama, and streamed the events live on its site."
4. Get in front of key issues...
When the FTC insisted on a 20-year oversight deal to settle charges that Facebook had engaged in "unfair and deceptive" practices last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg trumpeted the consent decree as "a framework for how companies should approach privacy," and evidence of "a clear and formal long-term commitment" to privacy.
That's typical of how the company works, Representative Mary Bono Mack, a Republican from California, told Politico. "They are responsive, engaged, and big thinkers when it comes to Internet policy."
5. ...but let others be the lightning rods.
At the same time, you didn't see Facebook blacking out its website to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act. Instead, the company held back, letting Google, Wikipedia, and other online giants take the lead.
BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist
Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.