Facebook’s vice president for Northern Europe on supporting businesses through Covid, responding to hate speech and boosting gender diversity in tech
Steve Hatch’s CV is full of names familiar to our industry. He’s worked at Y&R, Omnicom and WPP prior to 2014, when he began a career at a company familiar to pretty much everyone as Facebook’s Vice President for Northern Europe.
Today, Steve is overseeing the introduction of Facebook’s e-commerce tools in Northern Europe, helping brands and particularly SMEs adapt to new digital models and grow their sales as a way to stave off the impact of Covid-19.
In a year where the discourse around social media’s role in society has been as tumultuous as any, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked him about what’s occupying his thoughts and time.
LBB> There's a lot going on in the world, and Facebook wields a lot of influence over the way those world events are shaping up. What are the biggest broad topics taking up your time and attention as VP for Northern Europe at Facebook?
Steve> Covid-19 has obviously been a huge area of focus. We knew at the start of the pandemic we had a responsibility to make sure people could access live and accurate sources of information. That is why we quickly launched a Covid-19 Information Centre where people could access resources in real time from public bodies like the NHS.
Globally, we’ve directed over two billion people to resources from the WHO and other health authorities through our Information Centre and pop-ups on Facebook and Instagram, with over 350 million people clicking through to learn more. We have also taken aggressive steps to limit the spread of misinformation about the virus and connect people with reliable information. Between April and June alone we removed more than seven million pieces of harmful Covid-19 misinformation.
Another major priority in our Covid response has been how we support the small business community, who are the backbone of the UK economy. When we were in the heart of the first lockdown wave, many small businesses had to make a quick pivot to online to ensure they could keep selling and stay afloat. Through virtual training and support provided in partnership with Be The Business, to the launch of new e-commerce tools and features on our platforms like gift cards and Facebook Shops, we’ve been working hard to find ways to support these entrepreneurs through this tough time.
LBB> With that environment in mind, what are the messages that you find yourself commonly saying to advertisers and their agencies when you speak to them?
Steve> Overall this has been economically challenging, however there is a real range of experience for businesses large and small, and depending whether they are online or offline focused. Those businesses who are digitally enabled have proven to be incredibly resilient. For many companies, it has catapulted them five years into the future. We have seen our own five year projections for e-commerce accelerate. The pandemic has driven digital transformation at such pace and our role as both a technology company and partner is to help our clients through this transformation. And that’s not just in the way they work - but the way that they engage employees, communicate with customers and even operate their businesses.
It’s certainly a trickier time for marketers, the usual state of play has gone out the window and it’s time to be really brave in what you do and be dynamic in how you approach campaigns.
A relentless focus on customers is key. Specifically, how can you engage your audiences and inspire them to discover new products, but also how do you provide great customer service and experiences in a totally virtual world?
We know people are increasingly discovering brands and products online, rather than simply buying them. That means brands need to focus on building digital shelves and displays or using innovative functionality like AR or VR to recreate the magic of an in-store experience, online.
Investing in ways to create conversation with your online shoppers is also key. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated the use of messaging, as businesses and organisations have had to pivot their existing business models or find alternative channels to reach their customers. These moments of interaction deliver exactly the kind of quick and personalised experiences that meet, exceed and even redefine the needs of today's consumers, often combining people’s favourite parts of shopping in-store (e.g. consulting with a salesperson) and their favourite parts of shopping online (e.g. the convenience of shopping whenever they want).
LBB> The advertising boycott of Facebook that built up this summer generated a lot of conversation around the platform's relationship with misinformation and hate speech. What do you feel have been the most significant steps Facebook's taken as a response?
Steve> Normally if there’s a boycott, it’s because you and the other party disagree – that you have fundamentally different goals. But in this case, we share the same goals: we don’t want hate on Facebook.
That’s why we have been making a number of investments to tackle this issue, and will continue to work hard in this space. For example, this year we grew our fact-checking programme globally and removed millions of posts tied to hate organisations - over 95% of which we found before anyone reported them to us. Importantly and in partnership with us, GARM has developed an industry wide brand safety floor that defines 11 categories of content that no advertiser wants their content associated with. One of the 11 categories is hate speech and acts of aggression. We have aligned with GARM on the brand safety floor and suitability framework which is providing a common language and framework for the advertising ecosystem. We also hope to introduce a prevalence score for hate speech in our next Community Standards Enforcement Report.
We take our responsibility to keep people on our platforms safe incredibly seriously and are always working to minimise the bad and maximise the good on Facebook. When the darkest things are happening in our society, it is also important to remember that social media gives people a means to shine a light. To show the world what is happening. To organise against hate and come together. And for millions of people around the world to show their solidarity. We’ve seen that all over the world – and we are seeing it right now with the Black Lives Matter movement.
LBB> Tell us about yourself a bit. What was your upbringing like? I read that your parents raised you with a bit of a rebellious attitude!
Steve> Absolutely! My mum was a hairdresser and a real rebel who instilled in us how important it was to fight for what she believed in.
On her way to South Africa to fight against Apartheid she made it as far as Southampton docks and met my dad, then I came along. My mum had a reawakening after the birth of my sister, where she wanted to get back to education, so she went on to do a sociology degree. She would cut out quotes like ‘Everyday racism is not perpetuated by the assassins of Martin Luther King but by our own ignorance and inactions’ and stick them up in the kitchen. It definitely shaped how I thought about the world.
LBB> And what was your route into the industry? What were the key moments?
Steve> At school, I was passionate about reading and creativity. I’m dyslexic, so I naturally gravitated towards subjects where I could engage in creative problem solving and connected thinking.
I went into the careers office one day and declared confidently that I wanted a career that let me put my communication skills first, like acting. Perhaps sensing that I wasn’t the next Leo DiCaprio, they pointed me towards advertising, and the rest - as they say - is history.
LBB> What was your first exposure to the world of the ad industry?
Steve> My first job was at a small local agency nearby in Southampton where I grew up. They took a chance on a keen young guy with buckets of enthusiasm and zero advertising experience, and that was where my career really began.
From the get go, I was absorbed by the combination of commerce and art that advertising presented. I really believe that my success has stemmed from the fact that I found the things I was interested in and pursued them with a real intensity.
LBB> When you first got to Facebook, what were your initial thoughts? And how has your perception about the company changed since then?
Steve> It’s an incredibly dynamic place to work. Our teams are passionate and are building products that really make a difference to people’s lives - from the way we connect with our friends and family, to how we shop, and spend our down time.
What I love about Facebook, and probably my perception of it before I joined, was the power of its self-service platform that has helped to democratise advertising and made it affordable for 180m smaller businesses to advertise creatively when marketing budgets are limited. Before Facebook, advertising was reserved for large brands on mass media channels, but with our mix of free and paid for ad tools small businesses can now compete with the big players, really levelling the playing field. That’s not to say that Facebook is not for big brands. Since I joined, my role has focused on building our business with big brands and agencies. There has been a significant shift in how bigger brands have engaged with our platforms and see it as an essential part of any comms planning process, and we have worked closely with them and agency partners to create some truly exciting and creative campaigns.
Something that also really strikes me coming to work every day is the commitment and sense of responsibility everyone in our organisation feels towards our community, whether that's neighbours supporting each other in groups during lockdown, or the businesses we are connecting with consumers at a local, national or global level.
LBB> What have you been proudest of in your time there so far?
Steve> Witnessing and supporting the impact that charity Help Refugees has been able to have through using our platforms. Following a single post on Facebook by Josie Naughton, an inspiring individual who was determined to help refugees in Calais, she led a mass call to action and brought together people from around the world. This became Help Refugees and in turn shifted from a grassroots movement into a global humanitarian aid organisation.
In its first four years, Josie helped 1m refugees in 14 countries with 30,000 volunteers. We have partnered with Josie and her team to drive awareness and donations for the charity (including through the sale of the ‘Choose Love’ clothing). I have felt so much pride in Help Refugee’s story because it truly showed the power of community and the role our platforms can play in creating and growing a global movement.
When you connect the world, you often see people’s innate desire to help and collaborate with each other and our platforms can be a great way to galvanise support for important causes. I feel privileged to see that kind of positive action played out on our platforms every single day.
LBB> Facebook recently announced grants for small businesses in London to help them survive through 2020. What drove that decision and how do you envision it working?
Steve> Facebook is in the business of small businesses. So when the pandemic hit we knew we had an obligation to support this incredibly important community.
More than 200 million businesses use Facebook’s free tools to reach customers, and many used these tools to help them keep their businesses afloat when their doors were closed to the public – saving people's jobs and livelihoods.
Research from our Global State of Small Businesses report has consistently found that cash flow is a major concern - in the UK 43% of operational SMBs in August on Facebook expected cash flow to be a challenge in the next few months. We know a little bit of help can go a long way, which is why we launched a $100m grants programme, to support up to 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries earlier this year.
In the UK, we will provide a grant of £5 million to small businesses in the London area where Facebook has offices. Our grant is a combination of cash and ad credits to help small businesses as they rebuild, re-engineer and recover operations during this challenging year.
LBB> I know you've pushed hard to improve Facebook's gender equality as a 'Token Man'. What's been most difficult there and where have you managed to make progress?
Steve> I was very proud to work with The Drum and others in the industry on the 'Token Man' project. It is vital that business leaders, like myself, who come from positions of privilege do the work to become the best allies we can be. That means understanding the issues, doing the research and reading, and crucially listening carefully to lots of different communities in your organisation.
We are very committed to broadening diversity at Facebook and have several initiatives in place to build a more representative workforce. When it comes to gender diversity, the big challenge for tech companies like ourselves is the under-representation of women in engineering roles.
To help get more women into our industry, we’ve joined the UK government’s campaign called Engineering: Take A Closer Look
and worked closely with a non-profit organization called Primary Engineer
to inspire more than 50,000 young people from schools across the UK to become the engineers of tomorrow. We still have a long way to go, but over the next four years, 50% of our global workforce will consist of women, under-represented minorities, people with two or more ethnicities, people with disabilities, and veterans.
LBB> Finally, do you have any particular obsessions or interesting hobbies? Have you taken up any new habits in lockdown?
Steve> Cooking is a particular passion of mine. Spending more time at home has meant more home-cooked meals for dinner and baked treats for the weekends, which has been lovely. I would have loved to have been a professional chef, but sadly don’t think my skills quite make the cut. I leave that to my sister, who actually runs her own restaurant.
I’ve been quite inspired too by some of the quirky Groups that have really spiked in popularity over lockdown. Gardening groups, like the 389,000 strong Gardening on a Budget
Group, have seen a huge jump in engagement as people turned to gardening during lockdown. More than 3m people in the UK are part of FB gardening groups. That’s incredible! My wife and I are keen gardeners, so we’ve been taking a leaf out of their book and have been getting out and enjoying the sunshine in our garden as much as possible this summer.