Amazon Fail Or Measured Response

The Twitter world was in an uproar again this weekend. And this time the subject of their ire was Amazon and their supposed segregation of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender content.

We've talked about this type of thing before on The BeanCast. Brand does something perceived as bad. People trend the subject up with their commentary on Twitter. Brand usually over-responds. Everything blows over. And then in hindsight, brand reason just how small the negative response really was.

A Vocal Minority in an Uproar

I don't know what your experience is with negative online posters, but my own is that angry people tend to post a lot. There's a reason we call them the "vocal minority" in marketing. They make enough noise to seem bigger, more threatening and more damaging to market share than they really ever could be. They also attract a lot of tacit support in terms of people who essentially agree enough with their comments (enough to re-tweet at least), but who in the end won't change their purchasing behavior.

Social Media Strategy in Question

However, the Amazon case is especially interesting because it's also attracted a lot of commentary from people claiming that somehow Amazon was caught with their pants down on the whole social media issue. And just today, B.L. Ochman posted this to the DigitalNext blog at Ad Age.

Let me first say that I love B.L.'s work on Ad Age. I've quickly become a huge fan since I started reading her. But here she is dead wrong in her opinion on the subject, as are many in the social media space who were up in arms. And the reason is because of the extenuating facts to this case.

Did Amazon Really "Fail?"

According to the best sources available at the moment, this whole situation was caused by a hacker going by the name "Weev." Amazon is claiming they had nothing to do with the segregation of the content and is correcting the situation. Barb points that out in her post, which makes it even more inconceivable to take the position that Amazon did wrong by not responding to the situation until Monday.

If the facts are true, this is a major security issue, not just a social media problem. And it's unfair to make statements like, "Amazon should have been monitoring its brand in social media 24/7. And clearly it wasn't."

In the comments section of the post I responded like this:

Okay people, let's for the benefit of the doubt say that Amazon was indeed hacked as they claim. While a little suspect, there really is nothing to doubt them on this. So with this assumption, how many companies do you know that immediately tell the world that their website has a vulnerability and that ithas been exploited before you've a) identify that vulnerability and b) plugged that vulnerability[?]

We can get all high and mighty that Amazon said nothing and that somehow this was a social media fail, but that would be forgetting a few important facts. First, they did respond. Second, they are obviously placing security above social memes. And third, they realized that the so-called "huge" uprising was actually quite small considering their total user base.

Abbey Klassen's recent article on this very site highlights this subject beautifully. Using the Motrin "fail," we discovered that in the scheme of things no one really cared. Sure the topic was a top-trending topic on Twitter, but the actual users posting to that topic was a small sub-set of an even smaller sub-set of the Internet community. And most mom's (customers) in post research really couldn't have cared less about the ads.

Over and over again, the subject of Twitter uprisings comes up on my show, ( And the opinions from those who know social media marketing always run along the lines of, "Don't do anything." Or "Don't over-respond." (And we're talking people like Scott MontyJohn WallPeter ShankmanChris Brogan and others.)

We forget that the value of social media marketing is to bring the corporate identity down to the level of the individual. So response should try to remain at the individual level. When brands like Facebook or Motrin respond with sweeping corporate decision-making to their "Million against..." postings, they miss the point of what it means to monitor the social streams and how to react to them.

Just because someone calls you[r] customer service center and says they hate the red on your site, doesn't mean you take red out of your brand. Twitter and social media sites are in many ways just a public analog to the call center. And we shouldn't be too critical of a brand taking time to gather facts and respond carefully and individually in such cases.

A Measured Approach

In the end I think Amazon handled itself quite well in this situation. They took time to consider the extent of the problems they faced, withheld from over-reacting to the situation and then responded in a manner appropriate to the situation. And far from lampooning them for inaction, I would say others companies would do well to follow their example when facing such crises.

(P.S. Make sure you also read Ken Wheaton's comment on the post. He makes some really good points on this issue.)

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