RPT-Status update: Facebook founder ‘friends’ new image

* Zuckerberg seems more comfortable with press

* Young billionaire gets accolades for business, giving

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 17 (BestGrowthStock) – At a conference six
months ago, Facebook’s 26-year-old chief executive was
literally dripping in sweat as he fielded tough questions about
his company’s privacy practices and a forthcoming movie
portraying him as manipulative and arrogant.

On Wednesday, a poised, perspiration-free portrait of Mark
Zuckerberg graced the cover of Time magazine, which crowned him
its Person of the Year, capping what may be one of corporate
America’s most remarkable transformations.

The make-over of Zuckerberg’s public image has been hard to
miss, with a high-profile donation to New Jersey public schools
in September and appearances on television programs like “The
Oprah Winfrey Show” and “60 Minutes.” It has occurred as
Facebook, the world’s No. 1 Internet social network, sees its
audience of “friends” and its influence swell.

Facebook may not need a smiling Zuckerberg to thrive, but
it certainly doesn’t hurt.

“He is the face of the company,” said Paul Argenti, a
professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth’s Tuck School
of Business, who said “The Social Network,” the fictionalized
film about Facebook’s controversial creation in a Harvard dorm
room in 2004, “put (Zuckerberg’s) reputation up for grabs.”

“He’s been on a tear to repair that,” Argenti said.

The film, which recounted claims that Zuckerberg stole the
idea for Facebook from a separate project spearheaded by
classmates (which led to a lawsuit that has been settled), came
out at the same time as reports surfaced in online blogs
suggesting Zuckerberg had shown a cavalier attitude toward
Facebook users’ privacy in the company’s early days.

WHO’S BEHIND THE TRANSFORMATION?

The change is more than image-deep. The redheaded CEO,
whose net worth was recently estimated at $6.9 billion by
Forbes magazine, was prone to awkwardness in interviews in the
past, with a demeanor that made him seem aloof.

But he has appeared decidedly more comfortable in his
interactions with reporters in recent months.

During a recent discussion with reporters, he played with a
boomerang and cracked jokes, nothing like the stiff and guarded
delivery of previous encounters.

Whether Zuckerberg has simply found his comfort zone as a
result of a string of back-to-back media briefings and product
announcements, or extensive coaching, or a combination of the
two, is not clear.

Facebook has its share of executives well-versed in public
image, including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, chief
of staff for the U.S. Treasury Department under President Bill
Clinton.

Facebook spokesman Jonny Thaw declined to comment on the
matter, but analysts saw Zuckerberg simply being more open.

“One of the things he’s done is he’s made a conscious move
to not let somebody else define who he is, but to go out and
sort of let people know who he is,” said Jim Bates, of the
crisis communications firm Sitrick and Company, which has
helped rehabilitate the images of such clients as R&B singer
Chris Brown and celebrity socialite Paris Hilton.

Some industry insiders see the efforts to improve
Zuckerberg’s image as reminiscent of another out-sized
technology figure. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp
(MSFT.O: ), was often criticized for cut-throat business
practices and a brusque personality during the 1990s.

That edge has softened in recent years, particularly as he
has focused on philanthropic work, which earned him a share of
Time magazine’s people of the year cover in 2005, alongside his
wife, Melinda Gates, and rock star-philanthropist Bono.

Of course, Gates, unlike Zuckerberg, is no longer running
his company. Stan Kowalczyk, a professor at San Francisco State
University who focuses on corporate reputation, said that gave
Zuckerberg room to see another flip in his image if he was not
careful.

“He’s going to have to walk on eggshells to make sure that
he doesn’t do something that is going to jeopardize that
reputation,” Kowalczyk said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

RPT-Status update: Facebook founder ‘friends’ new image