“It’s more evolution than transformation”

Mark Rabkin, OMR18
Mark Rabkin, Facebook VP of Ads, at OMR Festival 2018

Facebook VP of Ads, Mark Rabkin, on evolution, leadership and learning from Cambridge Analytica

During the OMR Festival 2018 back in March, VP of Ads at Facebook Mark Rabkin dropped by the OMR Podcast for a chat with Teja Toepfer, CEO and founder of FB ad specialist Facelift, and Michael Trautmann, former CEO of Hamburg-based ad agency Thjnk. The trio discussed the future of advertising and strategies on the Facebook family of apps, the evolution of user behavior, the untapped potential in the eCommerce and sports segments and what the Menlo Park group learned from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Evolution of behavior, not a transformation.

For the first time in its history, Facebook experienced a decline in use according to reports released by eMarketer earlier in the year. Yet Rabkin sees no reason to sound the alarm: “The story we are facing is much more evolution than a transformation in what people are doing. You will see a lot of growth in new experiences, but I think you will also see experiences that bridge some of the apps more.” Rabkin feels “sharing is a fundamental human need” whose location will shift from the mother platform to “group chats so they can pick just the right audience.” This selectivity figures to be a growth driver for Facebook according to Rabkin, who sees the popularity of groups increasing significantly as the preferred channel to share and communicate, while empowering users more.

The matter of Cambridge Analytica

Given the “breach of trust” that users felt in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, providing users with increased control over their data is one way for the social media behemoths to regain the trust of its user base. In fact, when Rabkin made the trek to our Festival in Hamburg last March, the scandal had just broke. CEO Mark Zuckerberg had yet to appear in front of US lawmakers and the European Union Parliament, and Cambridge Analytica had yet to be banned from the platform. Nevertheless, Rabkin addressed the issue head-on in the podcast, calling the company “too optimistic” when it came to entrusting other people with sensitive personal data and state flatly in his keynote at the OMR18 Conference that Facebook made “mistakes” in their role as “guardians of the data our users share with us,” but that Facebook is a “learning organization” dedicated to learning from their mistakes.

Mark Rabkin’s keynote at OMR Festival 2018

In the OMR Podcast, Rabkin expounded further telling Michael Trautmann and Teja Töpfer that the “important lesson for us is just to keep really careful watch over how all these connectivity tools are used and to act much more quickly and transparently when we detect bad stuff.” To effectively monitor and react to such breaches, Rabkin said plans are in place to have an additional “20,000 people total working on the platform, engineers, data analysts, human reviewers, security,” by the end of this year.

“Facebook is a very mission-driven company”

With the influx of new blood set to join Facebook in the coming 12 months, Rabkin underscored the importance of cultivating a culture where everyone acting in the best interests of the community. “If all a person is talking about is their own project and their team, their world is small and that is where divisions creep in.” But if they are included in strategy discussions, if they hear updates “on a level much bigger than them all the time, then they feel like a part of a much greater whole.”

The importance of being awkward

Another part of the culture that Rabkin wants to create is one of open-exchange and awkwardness. He loathes using the limited time he has for 1-on-1 meetings on status updates and other things that could be contained in an email. “I really want to use my time with leaders and managers for the most important problems–and the most important part is helping people grow, giving them real feedback. Discussing the tough stuff that’s a little awkward, but very rewarding.”

Looking beyond the horizon East

Moving away from Facebook directly, Rabkin shifted his focus beyond his own horizons to the east, where WeChat reigns supreme on the world’s largest market. The all-rounder is a massively popular messaging, social media and payment app that Rabkin dubbed it as a “super app.” One of the biggest and yet relative unknown players on the global market, WeChat is an intriguing entity for Rabkin. “My mind is still open to whether or not WeChat will be able to translate to other markets or not,” says Rabkin about the app’s potential. However, he is convinced that “all the messaging apps in the world will provide a much deeper connection to businesses.”

Sports produces amazing content—but also community

As we have reported at OMR, the rise of eSports is unmistakable, with Fortnite’s popularity crossing over into the mainstream and capturing the imagination of traditional sport’s stars. And Rabkin, too, sees nothing but positives from Facebook’s role as a platform for both eSports and traditional sports, saying “Facebook can bring a lot of the secret sauce to the table. We are hoping that we can build a more engaging community that is more sharing.”

To hear what else Rabkin had to say about the future of organic traffic, the evolution of the online ecosystem, how Facebook could see an increased role as a job-placement platform and the importance of agility in his leadership style, check out the latest episode of the OMR Podcast.

OMR Podcast with Facebook Head of Ads Mark Rabkin at a glance:

  • Rabkin’s background and where he got his start (1:15)
  • What inspired him to go from back end to front end?/Why he wanted to evolve from a specialist to a manager (02:00)
  • Strategies Facebook plans on pursuing moving forward (03:50)
  • Way of combatting saturation in markets (05:53)
  • What insights and mistakes compelled Facebook to reposition the company internally (08:15)
  • What was the biggest takeaway for Facebook from the Cambridge Analytica scandal (11:24)
  • On the evolution of the ecosystem with regard to fans and organic traffic (07:00)
  • What WeChat does well, where it lags behind the competition? (16:15)
  • What Facebook is undertaking to make inroads as an eCommerce platform (18:35)
  • The shared traits between Facebook as an eCommerce platform and the spirt of early eBay? (19:55)
  • On Facebook’s efforts to engage and promote the eSports and traditional sports segments (21:20)
  • On how Rabkin sees Facebook’s role as a headhunter moving forward (23:45)
  • Why agility is such an essential aspect of Rabkin’s leadership style (25:50)
  • On the importance of engaging and exchanging with his team leaders regularly (29:00)
  • Why at Facebook taking an active interest in projects other than your own is a core tenet? (32:30)
  • What role does vertical integration play in developing new advertising spaces (34:40)

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Scott Peterson
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