Donald Graham spends long stretches on Facebook, sharing with 4,888 friends his interest in tattoo removal, a love of the Washington Redskins and his favorite Muppets song, “Mahna Mahna.”
The 66-year-old chief executive of Washington Post Co. also shares a lot more with one of those friends: Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The two men—separated by 39 years—have formed an unlikely relationship bridging two vastly different media worlds. Introduced through a college friend of Mr. Zuckerberg in 2005, each now serves as a mentor to the other. Mr. Zuckerberg’s views on social media and news-sharing have begun to have broad influence inside the Post Co., which has a $2.9 billion market value.
Mr. Zuckerberg has in turn gone to Mr. Graham for insight, even spending several days shadowing the media mogul to learn about life as a CEO. Since 2009, Mr. Graham has served on Facebook’s board. Many say the company is worth up to $100 billion.
“Don will have ideas and questions that he’ll want to bounce off Mark and similarly Mark takes counsel from Don,” said a person close to the Graham family. “They have a very close relationship that focuses on business issues and dilemmas.”
There are certainly plenty of dilemmas these days for Post Co.
The company’s primary money-maker, its Kaplan education business, has been upended by new federal regulations aimed at reining in for-profit colleges Advertising and print circulation at the flagship newspaper have eroded. in 2010, the company sold Newsweek magazine for $1.
Bloomberg NewsWashington Post’s Donald Graham
For much of the past four decades, Mr. Graham leaned on his friend Warren Buffett for advice. But Mr. Zuckerberg’s Web savvy makes him a valuable guide going forward in the digital world, even if Mr. Graham is old enough to be the 27-year-old’s father.
“Warren is unique,” Mr. Graham said, noting the Berkshire Hathaway chairman had made an “incalculable difference” over the years providing direction. “Mark is an adviser in different ways.”
Mr. Zuckerberg has helped Mr. Graham think through a number of online initiatives in which the Post Co. has attempted to harness the power of Facebook and other social-media sites.
In the summer of 2010, for instance, the company began working on Trove, which allows users to build a news site around their interests, using information from their Facebook profiles as a starting point.
When Mr. Graham told Mr. Zuckerberg about the impending launch of Trove, the two discussed other ways Post Co. could use the same technology.
ReutersFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Those talks in part led to the development of Social Reader, an application that lets users’ Facebook friends see what articles they’re reading. Since its launch in September, more than seven million people have downloaded the app.
What this dabbling in new technology means for the company in the months and years ahead isn’t clear—even to Mr. Graham.
“We don’t know,” he told investors at a media conference sponsored by UBS AG in early December.