Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook has its head on straight

May 29, 2013: 3:36 PM ET

Sandberg, better known these days for her blockbuster book Lean In, reminded the audience at the AllThingsD conference that she's still helping run Facebook too.

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FORTUNE -- It is too simplistic to judge a company's progress by how its top executives present the company's narrative in public. But it is tempting. More people are questioning Apple (AAPL) than they have in years partly because the company isn't telling a story about its vision, at least not as well as it did for the last decade and a half. Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook (FB), showed the contrary opportunity Wednesday morning in an appearance at an AllThingsD conference.

Facebook, in Sandberg's telling, has its corporate head screwed on straight.

Sandberg, better known these days for her blockbuster book Lean In, reminded the audience at the conference near Los Angeles that she's still helping run Facebook too. On mobile, she repeated already disclosed data that Facebook is getting 30% of its revenue from mobile advertising, up from nothing at the time of Facebook's IPO last year. Sandberg also made a compelling case for why mobile ads are doing well for her company. Mobile ads will perform better for Facebook than the desktop, she said. One reason is that Facebook can collect richer data from mobile ads because consumers are walking around with their devices when they interact with the Facebook platform.

Sandberg also described Facebook's approach to innovation. Asked why Facebook Home -- the company's new user interface for selected mobile phones -- isn't taking the world by storm, she gave good color on the young feature without being defensive. She said users are "bimodal" in their response to Facebook Home. "We get 5s and 1s," she said, "and very few 3s" in consumer ratings. She implied the company is thinking about this bimodality (my word not hers). "We will be committed to monthly rollouts" of upgrades to Home. She also plugged the two features the positive consumers like: Cover Feed and Chat Heads.

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The image Sandberg projects about Facebook is of a mature, confident company. She said when she joined five years ago the assumption (at 70 million users) was that the 50% of the user base that visited every day would decline. Today, at 1.1 billion users, that figure is at 60%. She said Facebook management spends a lot of time culling its list of good ideas so that it can pursue its best ideas. (Consciously or not, this is an homage to Steve Jobs and his cultural approach to running Apple.)

In sum, despite being the COO and not the chief visionary of Facebook, Sandberg presented a colorful, compelling vision of where her company is going. While stating clearly that Mark Zuckerberg runs all aspects of Facebook, she noted that he likes to focus on product, which leaves the "business side of the business" to her, including sales, marketing, and dealmaking.

To close out with a contrary compare and contrast between Tim Cook and Sheryl Sandberg, Apple's stock was up 1% late in the trading day Wednesday. Facebook's was down 3%. Go figure.

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Adam Lashinsky
Adam Lashinsky
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune

Adam Lashinsky is a San Francisco-based editor-at-large for FORTUNE, covering Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Lashinsky joined FORTUNE in 2001, after two years as a contributing columnist. Prior to joining FORTUNE, Lashinsky covered Silicon Valley for TheStreet.com and The San Jose Mercury News. A Chicago native, Lashinsky holds a B.A. in history and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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