From SXSW: Constructive Criticism for Sarah Lacy: Ask. Don

In case you missed it, BusinessWeek reporter Sarah Lacy pretty much bombed the Mark Zuckerberg keynote interview yesterday at SXSW. Check out CNet's coverage here.

One thing I noticed was that before she went on, she sent a post over to Silicon Alley Insider telling us what she was going to ask Zuckerberg.

So, we will not re-hash why Zuckerberg didn't sell to yahoo. We will not re-hash the fact that he's — gasp! — 23. I might make fun at his awkward 60 Minutes line: "was that a question?"

Everyone has glommed onto the corporate facebook story. And to Mark, that's the least interesting part. So we'll spend some time talking about the site itself, and the role it's playing in the world. And we'll tackle thorny advertising questions. (Beacon, anyone?)

Mostly, I hope to draw out some of the real Mark. I've spent some 30 hours or so interviewing him, starting when he was a 19 year-old punk. And you know, he's not a bad guy.

THAT'S the problem.

She told us what she was going to ask him. Lacy should have done a little more research into the makeup of the crowd at SXSW. She should have known that this crowd wanted answers. If Zuckerberg wasn't going to provide answers, or at the very least, information, then that would've been his (or Facebook's) problem. Instead, she utilized her 'familiarity' with Zuckerberg (she's interviewed him before, and is writing a book that features him) to try and 'friend' (approriately enough) information out of him. And that information never came. Zuckerberg is not known for his conversational finesse. You need to put him on the spot – without insulting him. If the questions were the right ones, the ones that the audiences wanted to hear, she could have at least satisfied some of the crowd.

But that never happened.

She never asked us about what we wanted to hear from him. Of course there is time for 'audience questions' after the interview. But why wait until then to hear what we have to say?

What Sarah Lacy should have done was write a blog post and solicit questions to ask Zuckerberg in the comments section. She could have taken the pulse of the crowd before she arrived. She could have at least given Zuckerberg the opportunity to address the issues that were so important to the crowd.

Style aside, a lot of what was missing was substance. In an interview, the questions need to have as much as (if not more) substance than the answers. It puts the onus on the interviewee. If Sarah gave the audience the opportunity to contribute substance to the interview — relevant to them — than maybe the crowd wouldn't have turned on her so quickly.

Isn't it ironic that one of the most attended, most accessible (to the public) interviews of the CEO of the most popular social and collaborative property on the web, had nothing social or collaborative about it?

Next time, please ask. Don't tell.

Oh…and please use this as an opportunity to listen to the crowd that is your audience. And converse. Don't antagonize.

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