Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Talks About Building Global Communities (And Advertising To Them)

In conversation with Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall and Wieden+Kennedy CCO Colleen DeCourcy, Sandberg discussed the importance of fostering and measuring the influence of your brand’s community.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg Talks About Building Global Communities (And Advertising To Them)
Sheryl Sandberg at Cannes 2017 [Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg took the stage at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity with Airbnb’s chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall to talk about the importance and responsibility of building global communities on mobile platforms, and the best ways for advertisers to tap into them.


“We know we have a really big responsibility,” said Sandberg, in the session moderated by Wieden+Kennedy chief creative officer Colleen DeCourcy, a 2017 Fast Company Most Creative People In Business honoree. “A responsibility not just to help people share and connect, but to build community around things that are good. Around kindness, around empathy.”

For Mildenhall, the idea of community is not an abstract marketing term, but something that’s essential to Airbnb’s core business. “We are nothing, absolutely nothing, without our community,” said Mildenhall. “We use technology to connect people offline. Without our community there is no Airbnb, there is no brand.”

DeCourcy sees parallels between what many marketers are aiming for today around the idea of community, and what iconic brands have always known. “Companies are moving from selling a particular product or service, into providing this idea of community and connection,” she said. “We see it more and more in the work. I know we at Wieden+Kennedy lived that with Nike for a long time. It was never just about selling the product, it’s about helping people reach their human potential, it’s about self-actualization, it’s about communities of athletes. So it’s a timeless concept that I think has become more real now than it ever has been.”

Of course, ultimately, these companies must find a way to connect their brand community to the bottom line. The conversation eventually turned to how the most successful brands and platforms are approaching mobile advertising.

Sandberg said it’s essential for brands to create more natively mobile advertising that grabs our attention in the first couple of seconds. “We talk about it as thumb-stopping creative,” she said. “It gets the brand out there pretty quickly, you can test and iterate. You can run an ad on Facebook and Instagram to a huge number of people, and you can test it and iterate and keep evolving. You measure results, not seconds. What people care about is, these people saw my ad, these people didn’t, here’s what drove our business.”

She said that the mobile advertising audience in the U.S. is like a Super Bowl every day. “So you can do the Super Bowl-like brand ad, and then you can target the next ad on Instagram or Facebook to the people who watched that video. Taking advantage of that power is so important,” said Sandberg.


As an example, she pointed to two different campaigns. One was Chevy’s “New Year, New Roads” that combined video, chatbot and more to help people around the world keep their New year’s resolutions. The other was a three-minute film for Kleenex.

Despite its length, Sandberg says the Kleenex ad still qualifies as thumb-stopping creative, and it drove results. “We measured it all the way down the funnel and this ad on Facebook resulted in a 4.2% in new buyers into the Kleenex brand,” said Sandberg. “There are a lot of things we can measure–how many seconds people watch the ad, whether the sound is on or off–what matters is at the end, there are 4.2% new buyers into the brand. It’s pretty incredible.”

For Mildenhall, one trend he’s seen as a result of the growth and evolution of mobile, online communities, particularly around brands, is the significant engagement levels of user-generated content. Airbnb is seeing up to six times more engagement for its user-generated content on social media than advertising video.

“The job for brands is to lean into what your community is creating, and then curate that, and put paid investment behind it,” said Mildenhall. “It’s very important to let your community have their voices, ideas, and expressions be baked into the overall brand narrative.”

The pursuit of ever better creative content is one discussed constantly at Cannes Lions, but Sandberg said the key is also to remember the primary target. “At the end of the day this (ad) community’s job is to drive our businesses,” she said. “Explain our purpose, but also drive sales.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.