Facebook executive Kay Madati caps four-day visit with interactive presentation to students

By Jackson DeMos

Facebook executive Kay Madati told students and faculty that his company is about people, not technology, during a Jan. 31 event at USC Annenberg.

Madati showed he is a reflection of Facebook’s focus on interactivity and communication by delivering a presentation that was more about dialogue than reciting a rehearsed presentation.

“Experiences are better when they are built around you, your friends, your interests,” said Madati, head of Entertainment & Media at Facebook, Inc.

His talk came on the final day of his four-day stay as the school’s 2013 Media, Economics & Entrepreneurship – or M{2e} –Executive-in-Residence. His residency included discussions with hundreds of students during visits to classrooms and events such as a graduate student mixer and undergraduate ice cream social.

“I haven’t been in an academic environment like this since college,” Madati said. “This is the most interesting time to be in media and marketing communication. It’s been educational and interesting to see how USC Annenberg is talking about changes in these fields.”

He said there are three important things to remember about the change in communications that is occurring as consumers’ amplified voices have become equal to or greater than that of traditional marketing:

  1. The Web is being rebuilt around people.
  2. The amount of information we can access is increasing exponentially.
  3. All this information will be everywhere.

Although Madati presented useful data about marketing strategies and mobile growth, much of the conversation was a Q-and-A dialogue between Madati and the students. Several questions centered on privacy issues that occur because Facebook has access to users’ personal information and interests.

“Every year, people are sharing twice as much information as the previous year,” Madati replied. “That doesn’t mean that we, Facebook, as well as all the people that build applications that access our API don’t have a responsibility to service privacy concerns.”

He said that a window pops up when an application has access to a Facebook user’s friends, location or personal information.

“Yes, groups can spring up on our platform that say, ‘Anti Facebook,’ with 2 million people overnight, but the data actually tells the opposite story,” he said.

Journalism professor and M{2e} co-director Gabriel Kahn said it is important for students to be exposed to executives such as Madati who understand what it takes to impact a rapidly evolving world.

“People like Kay Madati are working in this constantly changing media and communication environment every day,” Kahn said. “Our students can learn a lot about what it takes to succeed after college by understanding what these leaders are doing to solve the problems and challenges of today and the future.”

Graduate student Lauren Alboini (Strategic Public Relations ’14) said Madati’s talk was both valuable and eye-opening.

“Being in the same room as someone who could confidently forecast what direction the connectivity of our world is going in tomorrow, this year and in 10 years was fascinating,” Alboini said. “Social currency, the marketing value of relationships, and our transcendence into a story generation were the ideas that resonated with me the most,” Alboini said.

Madati said he enjoyed meeting so many students during the week. At the conclusion of the discussion, he offered advice to the future communication professionals in the room.

He told students not to waste time during their summers away from school.

“Get real internships and use that as an opportunity to discover your interests and passions,” he said. “If you show up on time, prepared and focused, then you’re one step ahead.”

He added that being a digital native is a prerequisite in many jobs today, but it is not enough.

“Continue to be curious and a student of your craft,” he said. “If you’re in marketing or communication you need to read the trade magazines on a regular basis. You should be paying attention to who’s leading and innovating.”

Communication professor and M{2e} co-director Christopher Holmes Smith said Madati’s visit was inspirational for USC Annenberg students because he shows the power communication has in making an impact on society. Smith said Madati has proven that in a career that has taken him from BMW to CNN to Facebook.

“It’s empowering because no matter what you learn in school you’re not held captive by what you learn in books and lectures,” Smith said. “It’s powerful for students to see that they can take a broad-based education like communication and apply it in any number of ways. USC Annenberg and the M{2e} program are training students to become leaders in their fields.”

Alboini agreed.

“Kay Madati’s presentation was a prime example of the type of high-quality 'beyond the classroom' opportunities offered here at USC Annenberg that make being an aspiring communications professional very exciting,” Alboini said.

Video of Kahn interviewing Madati
Media, Economics & Entrepreneurship (also known as M{2e}) 
Video clips of previous Executive-in-Residence David McCourt