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Influencers with Andy Serwer: Carolyn Everson

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In this episode of Influencers, Andy speaks with Facebook Global Business Group VP, Carolyn Everson, for a discussion about COVID-19 and it’s impact on small business, Facebook’s efforts eliminate hate speech, and the importance of what she calls ‘enlightened leadership’.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Whether it's advertising a new product, promoting a cause, or receiving helpful feedback, Facebook is an essential tool for business owners who want to communicate with customers and engage with their local communities. Carolyn Everson, vice president of Facebook's Global Business Group, has played a key role in connecting those businesses with countless people within their social network.

As one of the most powerful figures in the advertising industry, Everson carries unique insight into the health of the global economy and consumer sentiment in all corners of the world. Now after more than a decade at Facebook, Carolyn Everson joins "Influencers" for a discussion about COVID-19 and its impact on small business, Facebook's efforts to eliminate hate speech, and the importance of what she calls enlightened leadership.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ANDY SERWER: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. And welcome to our guest, Carolyn Everson, VP of the Global Business Group at Facebook who oversees the company's advertising worldwide. Carolyn, nice to see you.

CAROLYN EVERSON: Great to see you too, Andy. Thank you for having me.

ANDY SERWER: I want to ask you, first of all, about Facebook and the business and COVID and what's been going on. Many small businesses use Facebook as a key advertising platform. Has Facebook seen the use of the platform change during COVID? And has it adapted tools to help them during this difficult time?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Well, Andy, it's a great question because one of the biggest areas of impact over the last year has definitely been on small businesses. As a matter of fact, we recently launched a state of the small business report which surveyed more than 35,000 small businesses across 27 countries and territories in February.

And what they told us was pretty sobering. Nearly a quarter of them reported that their businesses were closed up. And that was up from 16% in October not too off the peak of 29% last May. The sharpest increases were in Europe because of the recent lockdown measures.

However, there is no question that the environment for small businesses has been incredibly challenging. And yet, there is a lot of positivity and optimism as well. Believe it or not, there were more new business applications filed in the US in 2020 than had been for years. And so what we're seeing is although certain businesses are definitely struggling, there is an energy and entrepreneurship around really fulfilling different consumer needs.

What we did at Facebook early on in the pandemic last year in 2020 is we set out to say one of the most important things our platform can do is help to rejuvenate and provide tools to small businesses. We have 200 million businesses that use our tools for free. Out of that 200 million, only 10 million actually pay us for advertising. So 190 million use our tools for free.

So we set and looked at, what are the things that small businesses need? They need to be able to become digital I'm sure there are examples, Andy, in your local neighborhood where before the pandemic that local business never had a website, certainly not a mobile app. You probably were not able to buy anything from them digitally. And suddenly, they had to become digital. So we accelerated our e-commerce efforts, really build out Facebook Shops, Instagram Checkout.

And just recently, we announced a more tools for small businesses, tools, for example, that will enable consumers to find more local businesses. So let's say there is a post about Italian food. People will be able to go into that and have links in that say, OK, here are other types of restaurants in your local neighborhood so consumers can discover more small businesses.

We also have seen a huge increase in business messaging. You know, back in the day, the way you would call a business, or you would pick up the phone, and you would call a business, or you would email a business. That has dramatically shifted to messaging environments. Consumers want to be able to message businesses on Messenger, on WhatsApp, on Instagram Direct. And that can be really complex for a small business to manage all of those interfaces.

So we've really revamped and enhanced our Facebook Business Suite so to save small business owners time but allow them to communicate directly with their consumers. And this will be an ongoing effort. You will continue to see us roll out new products and services really with the goal of helping businesses not only replace the revenue that they have lost, but hopefully be able to add new revenue streams and find new consumers globally.

ANDY SERWER: Yeah, I want to follow up on that last point you made, Carolyn, because you have these new tools, but they speak to the lockdown perhaps and the time during COVID. Won't these customers simply abandon the tools going forward once the economy reopens? Or how are you going to have them integrate these new tools with the new reopened economy?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Yes, so you know, what-- in the retail space, we call it omnichannel or-- and that-- and we work on strategies that think about what it's like to be in a digital environment to be buying things, what it's like if you do go in-store, how those two connect, right? The consumer when they go to shop at Target or Walmart, whether they go in the store, or they're buying online, they expect Target and Walmart to understand who they are as consumers. So there's no questions that an omnichannel experience is going to be an increasingly important.

However, there's some really interesting stats about the acceleration of e-commerce and even as things open up. A decade ago, e-commerce accounted for 5.1% of sales. In 2019, that went up to 19%. By the first few months of 2020, it was in the-- it was in the early 20 percents. And now it is continuing to increase. So what we have seen is anywhere from 3, 5, or 10 years, depending on what country and what analyst report you use, that acceleration of e-commerce has been condensed in a handful of months.

So then we look at, well, what are the behaviors in the countries where people are back to whatever a new normal is, meaning they're not on lockdown, stores are open, people are able to go out physically? We are not seeing the e-commerce trend go backwards. I think consumers really got a chance to see how efficient, how time-- how much time they can save, the quality of products and services that can be delivered to them.

And if anything, consumer expectations are going to be much higher coming out of this pandemic. So the trends we see in Asia, particularly in the countries where things are more back to a whatever new normal is, those trends are sticking with consumers really pushing forward on utilizing e-commerce.

ANDY SERWER: Let me ask you a little bit about vaccines and information on the platform because a lot of people find out about vaccines on their news feed and in terms of eligibility and location information. What type of impact did that feature have? And is the company considering other tools to help get the words out about-- the word out about vaccines and address vaccine hesitancy as a bigger part of the challenge as more willing individuals have been vaccinated?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Sure. So this is a topic that-- that is near and dear to me personally, but also just so relevant for people around the world. And let me just take one step back and provide a broader context on COVID in general, and then I'll dive deeper onto what we are doing with vaccines.

Last year in January, actually right around the Davos time frame, we had-- there was a leadership meeting. And probably the single most important question and most provocative question I have seen in my career was asked, which is, what decisions do we need to make today that if we don't make we will regret in two weeks? That level of urgency was pretty extraordinary. I'd never seen that question asked in that context.

And out of that question came a decision that we were going to be not just focusing on taking this information down, but more importantly, getting accurate and reliable information to the public about COVID. That launched the COVID Information Center, which has now been used by over 2 billion people in over 190 countries in partnership with the WHO, the CDC, and local health ministries. And it's really meant to provide accurate information for people.

And that was a major cultural pivot for the company. And I can talk about how we followed on later if you're interested in that. But with vaccines, we've then taken that model and said, OK, how do we provide accurate information about vaccines? Where do you get them? What are the side effects? Why they make sense, why you should get them, tools to help you make them.

And we've launched the vaccine now tool to really help 50 million people get closer to getting access to a vaccine. And just recently on April 12, we took it a step further and really modeled what we did with the voting in the US election. And now we're doing state-by-state vaccine tools so that people have a much easier way to get access and find a vaccine appointment.

The reason why I say this is near and dear to me and I'm sure so many of your viewers, I lost my father in December of 2019 right before COVID. And so my mom, who is still alive, I was so focused on making sure she didn't get COVID almost probably to an obsessive point because I was like, I cannot lose my mom on the heels of losing my dad. We kept her safe.

Once we knew the vaccines were starting to become available, I was desperate to get her an appointment. And it was impossible. Every-- there were multiple sites. We had to sign up. And I thought to myself, how is an 80-year-old woman on her own supposed to find an appointment for a vaccine? I was like, it's not going to happen.

I wound up going on to Facebook and looking for vaccine groups. And sure enough, there was one, a New Jersey vaccine information group. And it literally had been started by what I call vaccine angels, people that are spending all of their free time-- these were people that work, but they are literally staying up every night and updating people when vaccine appointments drop. And if you really struggle, you can message them. And they will make the appointment on your behalf.

And so we are seeing everything from Facebook providing the vaccine tools state by state and really trying to provide accurate information, but I also want to give a shout out to those local heroes state by state, country by country, who have created groups to help people get vaccine appointments. And they're, at the end of the day, I think the real heroes in this story.

ANDY SERWER: Along with those people who are providing those kinds of services on Facebook, there are other people who are spreading misinformation about vaccines, Carolyn. What were you guys doing to combat that? And how do you think that has fared?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Yes, so we are taking very aggressive measures to get vaccine misinformation off the platform. We have fact checkers in dozens of countries around the world that are really working around the clock to look at not just misinformation about vaccines, but misinformation more broadly. We see it as an absolute imperative to try to get misinformation off the platform and redirect people to accurate information, which is why the vaccine center is so important.

ANDY SERWER: Let me ask you about your core responsibilities, which are advertising on the platform. How is the business looking right now? Is it picking up? Or was it consistent throughout the pandemic and continues? How would you describe it?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Well, we're-- we're right ahead of earnings. So I can't comment on our current performance. But what I can do is maybe give you a bit of a historical look backwards, which is there is no question that 2020, there was an accelerant of digital transformation as we talked about, an accelerant of certain categories of businesses that really were able to take advantage and gain market share, categories like e-commerce and gaming and retail especially those that went through the transformation.

And there were other categories that have really struggled, categories like travel. And everyone's eagerly waiting to see based on vaccination rates and people's willingness to travel how that category is going to come up. But I would say if you look at historicals in the-- in 2020, and you see the macro trends of advertisers utilizing digital tools, it was obviously a very important year for that shift and one that I feel that we played a really valuable role in helping businesses continue to grow.

ANDY SERWER: With that surge in business, though, you also faced an advertising boycott last summer over hate speech on the platform. And you talked about that. And you said you were thankful for the boycott because it's made the company better. What do you mean by that, Carolyn? And what changes did you make in the aftermath? And do you have plans for more changes?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Yeah, so look. The-- the boycott was obviously-- it was probably the hardest-- not probably. It was definitively the hardest couple of months that I've had in my almost 30-year career because these were companies and partners that I had worked with for in some cases well over, you know, two decades. And so to have-- be under that level of scrutiny that were we doing enough, and could we be doing more, was very, very difficult.

And the reason why I said I was thankful is I actually think through very-- very difficult times, when companies are willing to dig deep and look at can we do things better? And every single company can do things better. We certainly learned that through racial injustice. Every company, every leader can always be improving.

We took some very definitive actions to really accelerate some of the efforts that had been long underway. So for example, we measure how much hate speech we get down before someone reports it, so essentially how much hate speech is found by our machines. And if you look at that, we started at like 24% a handful of years ago. By the most recent report, we were at 97%. We have 7 to 8 hate speech sort of views out of 10,000 impressions now.

So we are constantly focusing on, how do we reduce hate speech on the platform through both technology, through machine learning, as well as human intervention? And I am really, really proud of the progress. And the market has responded very well to us being transparent about those numbers, our plans for how we improve them. And now we release quarterly reports on it because we think it's as important as releasing our quarterly financial earnings.

We also made a very important hire. We are the first technology company to hire a VP of civil rights Roy Austin. I think he is going to be-- he's already proving to be a tremendous leader and asset and involved in key decisions around our policies and looking to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to rid the platform of hate speech.

And although we have a zero tolerance for hate speech, we don't have zero occurrence. And we will never be perfect. And neither will any platform out there. However, I think the way we need to be judged is are we being transparent? And are-- are we holding ourselves accountable? And can the market hold us accountable for the progress that we're making?

And the last thing I would say about that is I really want to give credit to the industry. This is not a Facebook-unique issue. And we had started something the year prior in 2019 called GARM, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. We were one of the founding members.

Now that is expanded. There are literally dozens of marketers on. At the agency holding companies, I sit with my peers from Google, from TikTok, from Snap, from Twitter. And we are working collectively. We now have agreed-upon definitions.

And we're getting ready to release a report that at least takes all of the measurements that the different companies are using and tries to translate that for marketers so that they can judge each of the platforms on how safe and suitable they are. So this has been a massive industry effort that I'm really proud to be part of. And again, this is an ongoing commitment for us. We do not-- we do not want any hate speech on the platform, but it is a daily, daily battle that we fight every single day along with our peer companies.

ANDY SERWER: And how involved are Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in regard to these conversations with advertisers?

CAROLYN EVERSON: So the-- they-- they are as involved as they are needed to be. I have had the privilege of representing Facebook largely to the market for now a decade. And certainly, when marketers want to hear from Sheryl and Mark, we-- we make that accessible.

Mark and Sheryl are available and meet with our global client council, which is something I started right when I got to Facebook. That has some of the largest and most important partners on our platform, as well as the agency holding groups. We've now spread that to 13 councils around the world.

And I have, as you can imagine, I have daily access to Mark and Sheryl and worked hand in hand with them as well as my colleagues across the entire company last summer to ensure that we were responding with the might of the company and the effort around the company in all areas, around the policies-- and we did make policy changes-- around the investments in machine learning, and continued investments in people, the hiring of Roy-- of Roy Austin. And so this is a collective effort, and I feel very supported by the leadership at Facebook.

ANDY SERWER: Speaking of leadership, Carolyn, you've spoken and written about the importance of enlightened leadership. What do you mean by that? And what's your advice for helping managers embody that?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Yeah, so this is a personal passion of mine, which is to understand how certain leaders are just, frankly, more enlightened than others. And let me start by the macro framing, which is through almost my whole career, my business school education, a lot of training, I feel like we learn how to be effective leaders, how to deliver the number, deliver the business plan. But very little is actually taught and talked about about how to be an enlightened leader.

An enlightened leader is one that takes the human qualities of leadership and brings them to the forefront every day, qualities like empathy, generosity, humility, vulnerability. And last year, when you looked at what had happened to companies where we were literally now in people's bedrooms and bathrooms and Zooms, and you saw your kid-- people's kids and pets, there was a different level of intimacy that leaders had to get comfortable with. And leaders that exhibited and embodied human qualities I think made a much, much bigger connection with their teams.

At the end of the day, we all, no matter what level or rank you are, we all get up. We brush our teeth. We get dressed. There's so much similarity. And yet often, leaders get put on a pedestal. And what I am really advocating is leaders should not be on a pedestal. Leaders should be as human, as transparent, as vulnerable as-- as possible. And in that, you get a much deeper connection with your teams.

For me, this journey really has been ongoing over several years. And I had the privilege of attending the Henry Crown or being part of the Henry Crown Fellowship at The Aspen Institute. And that two-year program, which is then a lifelong membership that you're part of, really just dove into the difference between effective and enlightened, the difference between being successful and being significant.

And so this is an area that I am spending a lot of time and energy around speaking about, writing about. I really think the future of leadership is looking very different than it has in the past. And those people that exhibit human qualities are going to be far, far, far more significant going forward.

ANDY SERWER: Amen to that. And what about the future of work, Carolyn? When is Facebook going back to work? What is it going to look like not just this summer, but maybe two, three, five years from now?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Oh, this is the million dollar question. I do not have a single Zoom with a CEO or CMO where we are not discussing the future of work. At a macro level, every company is thinking through not only what the next few months look like, which continues to evolve as new variants come in and vaccination numbers-- and, frankly, if you have a global company, which we do, what we're doing in the US is going to be very different than, let's say, Brazil, which is right now in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises with the amount of COVID-- COVID infections that are occurring there.

And so we had a global framework where we looked at the future of work in a remote work context. And we have been, I think, a real leader on that, allowing people to apply to work remotely forever, which means that they'll come into the office maybe once or twice a quarter, but they can work wherever they want to. And we're really excited about remote work because we think it's going to allow us to recruit a much more diverse workforce.

Let's face it. Many companies are in very expensive metropolitan locations. And there is a ton of talent out there that does not live near the more expensive cities. So I think remote work is going to serve us and other companies that are following very well.

There are going to be people and roles that are going to want to be back in the office five days a week. And so that will be a model. The middle is the most interesting and probably the most complex. And I am seeing a range of solutions.

So Citibank's CEO declared a 3-2-2 work week, which is three days in the office, two days you can work at home, and two days, you have a weekend. She felt it was important to indicate the-- the 2 for the weekend because people are essentially living at work now as they work from home. Other companies are thinking about the type of work that needs to be done and when people need to be in the office. So it could be a week a month. That's another model we're seeing.

We have not made any decisions yet on our middle ground, our flexible work, because we're trying to look at all different options and really starting with the premise of, what is the type of work that needs to be done? And how is most effective to be doing it? But what I will tell you, Andy, there is no doubt in my mind that fundamentally the future of work looks a lot different than it did prior to the pandemic.

Every employee is going to evaluate companies across a number of dimensions. Flexibility is going to be one of them because we have seen people gain back time. What does it look like when you no longer are commuting an hour into a city on a bus or a train?

That hour looks different for people. They can go work out. They can have breakfast with their family or be home in time for dinner. And I think the future employees that are coming into the workforce are definitely going to be evaluating company culture around these elements.

ANDY SERWER: Carolyn, I think I've figured out that you've been at Facebook for exactly 10 years and one month.

CAROLYN EVERSON: That's correct.

ANDY SERWER: Correct? Yeah. So how has the company changed since you joined?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Oh, my goodness. It's changed dramatically. I mean, when I joined Facebook, I came from Microsoft. And I had this impression that Facebook had everything figured out, and what-- what was I going to do? And when I got to Facebook, I realized that that was not the case at all. We had revenue close to $2 billion at that point. And we had huge ambition and goals to serve the global population, connect the world, and bring businesses online.

And that 10-year journey has brought us from the Facebook desktop, which is essentially the company I joined, to Facebook Mobile to buying and acquiring Instagram to adding messaging platforms like WhatsApp, releasing Messenger as a separate app, Instagram Direct, and then the future of AR and VR and to see what we're doing with Oculus and Portal. It has been a 10-year transformation of where the company's ambition and vision has been, how we're serving people around the world.

And as I think about the next decade of Facebook, I think Facebook's going to look a lot different 10 years from now. I think it's going to look in a much more immersive social experience. AR and VR will be much more at the core and the center of what we do. Our business advertising will always be a very key component. But some of the newer areas like business messaging where consumers are going to want to have a direct relationship with businesses is exploding.

What we do in commerce is going to be an area, how we contribute to the future of work via workplace or our AR and VR tools. I think the next 10 years are going to potentially look dramatically even more different than the first 10 years, which is hard to believe. Because the company I joined, while the core and the mission and the values have remained, although the mission definitely evolved over the years, I just think the fundamentals of the business and our offerings and solutions for businesses is going to continue to dramatically improve.

ANDY SERWER: And will there be more women in leadership positions? And will you be using crypto or-- those two subjects?

CAROLYN EVERSON: Well, we have made a very, very concerted effort about women in leadership. I'm personally very proud. If you look at my-- my leadership team and how it's evolved, I now have four regional leaders. And out of the four, three are women, my head of North America, my head of EMEA, and a head of LATAM. Three out of my four are women. Super proud of that.

And I think that you're going to see it's not just, of course, about gender. We have a lot more work to do to bring people of color into leadership positions across my team, across every team at Facebook. And I would argue most companies have that mandate as well.

And that is a journey that every company needs to be on, but it is going to be a multi-year journey. I mean, some of the numbers that-- and forecasts are very depressing about how long it's going to take to have proper representation of all forms of diversity on leadership teams, but that's something that I spend a lot of my time very focused on.

In terms of the future of cryptocurrency and-- and NFTs and digital wallets, I am super passionate and interested in that space personally. Andy, I think you and I went through an early, early tutorial in that area a number of years ago, even around Bitcoin. And we certainly have very, very big plans around being able to facilitate payments between businesses and people and people to people.

I'm not sure if you've ever even used the Messenger device now where I could send you money, and it's super simple. But we see being able to provide payment services globally as a really important service that we need to provide to both businesses and consumers. And so many people have said, whether it's Gary Vaynerchuk or Mark Andreessen, like, we're on the cusp of the next major, major evolution around the future of fintech. And I think it's a super exciting area.

ANDY SERWER: I remember that tutorial so well, Carolyn. We could have been--

CAROLYN EVERSON: We should have listened.

ANDY SERWER: Right. Exactly.

CAROLYN EVERSON: We should have listened more than we did. I think about that tutorial. And I kick myself probably once a day about what was I thinking. And I remember going through it with you. And if you look back, it's like there is something to be said for people that see these trends, you know, not when everyone is talking about them, and every news reporter is giving highlights, but people that see these trends five, 10 years in advance. It's really remarkable. And I think that was one of them.

ANDY SERWER: Final question, Carolyn. My understanding is when you were a kid growing up, you worked all kinds of jobs. You were very ambitious, wanted to make your own money. What drove you then? And what drives you now and in the future?

CAROLYN EVERSON: There is no question when I was younger, I did-- I started working the moment I could possibly start working because I grew up-- we were comfortable, but money was always a struggle. It was a struggle every month for my parents to sort of meet the mortgage and the car insurance and things.

And I just wanted to be in a position where I had financial independence. And I thought that that was just going to be super, super important. So I've been-- I was very driven early on to be able to have some income coming in on my own. And that would fuel my spending money at college and some of the things that I wanted to do early on.

Now fast forward. I'm turning 50 this year. I've been at Facebook 10 years. So it's a big year of reflection. What drives me now is making sure that I am going to leave a legacy that I can be very, very proud of. No one will ever care that I ran almost $100 billion of revenue at Facebook. No one is going to talk about that at my funeral, I guarantee you.

But perhaps somebody will say that Carolyn made a meaningful difference in caring about her team and helping them to achieve not only a great career goals, but also having tremendous personal lives, that Carolyn gave everything to her family and knew that no matter what her job, was the most important job she had was being a mom. Those are the things that are most important to me as I think about the contribution that I can make back to society in this next decade. And so I'm in a very reflective moment.

I know I want to continue to give back. We have one shot at this life, and it's precious. And we have no idea how long we're going to be on this planet. But every single day, I try to think about, how can I make a difference? And that's what I'm very focused on as of now.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ANDY SERWER: Carolyn Everson, VP of the Global Business Group at Facebook. Thanks so much for your time.

CAROLYN EVERSON: Thanks so much for having me, Andy.

ANDY SERWER: You've been watching "Influencers." I'm Andy Serwer. We'll see you next time.