But it is unusual for a company to have a staff person charged exclusively with monitoring perceptions of its CEO full time. Facebook began monitoring Zuckerberg's perception about two years ago, a spokesman says. The move reflects his close association with Facebook's brand and his role as the company's chief spokesman. The company regularly posts announcements on his personal Facebook profile, which has more than 102 million followers. Understanding how Zuckerberg's posts and speeches resonate globally could help the company navigate a difficult period in which it has faced stern criticism from lawmakers, regulators, journalists, and average users.
The company declined to comment on McGinn's role, but the polling was not designed to influence Facebook products or policies, a spokesman said, and no specific changes have resulted from it.
"Facebook is Mark, and Mark is Facebook," McGinn says. "Mark has 60 percent voting rights for Facebook. So you have one individual, 33 years old, who has basically full control of the experience of 2 billion people around the world. That's unprecedented. Even the president of the United States has checks and balances. At Facebook, it's really this one person."
McGinn declined to discuss the results of his polling at Facebook, saying nondisclosure agreements prevented him from doing so. But he said he decided to leave the company after only six months after coming to believe that Facebook had a negative effect on the world.
"I joined Facebook hoping to have an impact from the inside," he says. "I thought, here's this huge machine that has a tremendous influence on society, and there's nothing I can do as an outsider. But if I join the company, and I'm regularly taking the pulse of Americans to Mark, maybe, just maybe that could change the way the company does business. I worked there for six months and I realized that even on the inside, I was not going to be able to change the way that the company does business. I couldn't change the values. I couldn't change the culture. I was probably far too optimistic."
After McGinn left Facebook, he founded a new market research firm named Honest Data. On January 27th, he posted the results of a poll he had conducted regarding opinions of Facebook. The poll, which surveyed 2,000 Americans using Google Consumer Surveys, asked respondents to evaluate a list of companies and mark which ones "are having a negative impact on society." Among tech companies, 32 percent of Americans said Facebook is harmful. A separate survey, which placed Facebook among other large brands including Walmart, McDonald's, and Marlboro, found that 27 percent said it is harmful.
The results largely matched McGinn's own perception. "I think research can be very powerful, if people are willing to listen," McGinn says. "But I decided after six months that it was a waste of my time to be there. I didn't feel great about the product. I didn't feel proud to tell people I worked at Facebook. I didn't feel I was helping the world."