Lean In? For Facebook, More Like “Duck!”

Will Sheryl Sandberg’s new book help Facebook, or hurt it?

This is always an interesting question when a high-profile executive writes a book, amplified exponentially when the book is accompanied by a media blitz that rivals a new Star Wars movie. In the coming weeks, Sandberg and her book, Lean In, will be promoted on 60 Minutes, in a 40-page spread in Cosmopolitan magazine, in Time magazine and on Good Morning America. It’s already gotten coverage in every major media outlet and seems to be the subject of about one tweet every 15 seconds.

The book, from what I can tell, is not about Facebook or its insights. It’s not “on brand” with Facebook. It’s not intended to help Facebook. Whether intended or not, Sandberg’s book is about to make Sandberg not at all famous for whatever her role was in co-building Facebook, and very famous for trying to start a new feminist movement.

From here on, Sheryl Sandberg will be famous for being Sheryl Sandberg.

This carries some risk for Facebook, as well as Sandberg. She’s already getting quite a bit of blowback in the media. A piece in Slate is headlined, “Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ Circles Completely Miss the Point on Workplace Maternity.” In The New York Times, Maureen Dowd belittlingly called Sandberg a “pompom girl for feminism.” The criticism keeps coming, and the book isn’t even out yet.

So Sandberg is proving a point about content and brands: Creating compelling mass-market content is a terrific way to get a lot of attention in today’s media landscape. But that attention doesn’t always help the brand or company, especially if it doesn’t seem linked to the brand’s purpose or the company’s broad goals.

Probably the most influential book by a sitting CEO in the past 50 years was Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive. It was not a dry corporate pseudo-marketing tome. It was part autobiographical, part management treatise, part inside story of one of Intel’s worst management decisions. The book made Grove more famous but also dovetailed with Intel’s image and philosophy, giving both a boost.

Most CEO books suck. (Sandberg is Facebook’s COO, but close enough.) They’re dull and too obviously self-serving. At least Sandberg didn’t do that. Hat’s off to her for writing something compelling enough to attract so much scrutiny, and for becoming famous for it.

But it’s a good bet that this won’t help Facebook, and that Sheryl Sandberg’s future and Facebook’s future probably won’t be one in the same.


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