Many people in tune with mainstream news saw or heard of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative last week. While it appears the couple’s motives are admirable, as a practitioner of public relations, I felt they did a disservice to their brand, and most importantly, to their newborn, by tying the announcement of her arrival to this philanthropic endeavor. (Or wait, is it an LLC?)
I tend to think Silicon Valley entrepreneurs such as Mr. Zuckerberg have become cultural icons. Their influence and reach is tremendous. Zuckerberg is recognized in most every inhabitable corner of the earth — and for better or worse, his popularity rivals that of Pope Francis, Barack Obama and, at least for a bit longer, Kobe Bryant. These tech leaders have become such recognized and admired figures partly because of their ingenuity and vast wealth, which is amplified by social media.
It’s standard operating procedure for new parents to share pictures and reflections to welcome their first child to the world on Facebook. If Mark and Priscilla would have stuck to that method, I would have given them a “like” and moved on with my day, probably more fond the CEO because he seems “just like us.” But for Zuckerberg, that wasn’t enough. He used his daughter’s birth as a launch pad for his new project.
While I do think their intentions were from a good place, incorporating your infant daughter into your branding objective is poor taste. Maxima (the daughter) is going to have the stiff intellectual and spiritual challenge of creating a powerful identity for herself outside of that of her parents, two of the richest and more famous people on earth. The success — or lack thereof — of this initiative will now forever be tied to Maxima.
Adding fuel to the fire was Zuckerberg’s “open letter” to his daughter which was released in conjunction with the initiative. Politicians and those seeking to catalyze meaningful change have long tied their motivation to wanting to make the world a better place for their children, and that’s just fine. But when you get to the point of mingling what for many people is the absolute most special moment of their lives with your business projects, no matter how grand and well-meaning, you’ve gone too far.
Whoever is Mr. Zuckerberg’s PR advisor should have convinced him to bifurcate these moments. Announce the birth of your daughter, let at least a few weeks go by and then announce the project, so that Maxima is not forever associated with the initiative and is recognized for the most important thing: her arrival! Though the joint unveilings had the desired effect of creating water cooler conversations (we still have one of those in our office), many of those conversations were negative.
I, for example, can’t tell you too much about the actual initiative, because once he used his infant daughter as an air cover, I stopped caring.
I can appreciate how confusing it gets in an era where it’s difficult to actually overshare because people have grown accustomed to sharing so much. But it’s always important to think about the other people you’re involving, and what they’ll have to live with. Especially when your role as a father, as new as it is, is to be a protector.