Too Big To Fumble? Lessons From The Amazon Episode April 29, 2009

Written by: Digitally Approved
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It all started with a post from Mark Probst on the 12th of April about hundreds of gay and lesbian books including his own losing their sales rankings on Amazon. He also posted Amazon’s response to him which was:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

Within hours, the social web was abuzz with activity. At the time of writing this post, more than 25,000 tweets with #amazonfail, #glitchmyass, #stilldelisted and #sorryamazon had gone back and forth, the online petition against Amazon’s “Adult Policy” had nearly 28,000 signatures and the AmazonFail group had attracted 4,125 members.


So, what are the lessons to be learnt?

  • Be prepared. Word on social media spreads like wild fire and traditional approaches of PR crisis management are ineffective in these situations. Bypassing organizational hierarchies, there should be an internal crisis management protocol or an escalation matrix which provides a nimble mechanism to ensure faster response. I came across this article in WSJ which is a good analysis of Domino’s response to the “disgusting video” recently.
  • Listen, but of course! In the Web 2.0 world it is all about power to the people. What was common between both the Amazon & Dominos “situations” was that the spark was provided by blogs with small but loyal followings. More than 4 in 5 bloggers blog about their experiences with companies (Technorati, 2008) and with 77% of active internet users reading blogs (Universal McCann, 2008), one can’t overemphasize the fact that companies need to keep their ear close to the ground at all times. Besides paid tools like Radian6, Filtrbox, Techrigy etc, there are various free tools like Google Alerts, Social Mention, Blog Pulse, Board Reader and Twitter Search that can be used to monitor buzz about your company, your brand and your competitors.
  • Get the message right. Amazon’s communication left room for a lot of speculation and when they finally released a statement of apology stating that it was an “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error”, it was “too little too late”. The message would have been more effective had it been from a senior Amazon employee rather than a PR release.
  • Be where the conversation is. In this case, Amazon should have tweeted, blogged and youtubed its heart out. But even at the time of writing this post, there was nothing on Amazon’s official twitter account in response to the barrage of tweets.

In hindsight, it is easy to criticize and advise. What else do you think Amazon should or should not have done?