The Amazon Debacle: Why it’s Always a Good Idea to Think Before Opening Your Mouth
Today’s Guest Post is Authored by Looper Reed & McGraw’s Joel Thompson, the head our Crisis Communications practice.
The Success of Amazon.
Most of us are familiar with the web site, Amazon.com. Amazon is a behemoth company that first hit the web in 1995, specializing in book sales. Since then they have broadened and diversified their inventory to include sales all music formats, software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, and toys. Amazon is a publicly traded company with market cap of over 70 billion dollars and an average of 6 million shares traded daily. It is now America’s largest on line retailer, more than three times as large as their nearest competitor.
What were they thinking?
So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when, last week, a well read blogger, MG Siegler, questioned why Amazon would allow the book “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure ,” into its online bookstore. This blog posting was immediately followed by similar blogs and Tweets, all questioning why Amazon would provide the mechanism for selling a how-to manual related to child molestation.
Showing a clear lapse in judgment, or just outright stupidity, Amazon had the nerve to issue the following statement: Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.
What? Such a short sided statement caused many to wonder, “Since when was Amazon appointed the mantle of Protector of the 1st Amendment?” Who are they trying to kid? Amazon is not the A.C.L.U. Amazon is in business to do one thing…sell items, on line, for a profit. Historically, they’ve done that quite well.
If the powers-that-be at Amazon wish to continue their dominant run, they would be well advised to hone their communications skills.
Social Media: Witness the Power.
Talk about throwing gasoline on a fire; shortly after the statement was issued, corporate America once again experienced the power of social media. The web lit up like a bomb, led by more Tweets and blogs than one can count, calling for an outright boycott of Amazon. Two anti-Amazon Facebook campaigns, calling for boycotts, were immediately started. Within two days, one of them had 10,000 members! All of this coming at a time when Amazon, like brick and mortar retailers, should be gearing up for maximizing their profits during the holiday season.
Quickly sensing the error of its ways, Amazon quietly removed the book from its web site. No statement. No explanation. Simply an error page telling users, “We’re sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site.”
“Remembering” in Crisis Communication.
In trying to play a roll it does not deserve, nor does it merit, Amazon forgot who they were and from where they came. More importantly, they forgot their stakeholders. The stakeholders care about profit. Protecting freedom of speech should be an important item to these stakeholders, but you can rest assured, they aren’t looking to Amazon to provide that protection.
The “rule of three” plays an important role in crisis communication. In determining the content of your message during times of crisis, it is important to remember three things:
1. Remember who you are.
2. Remember where you came from.
3. Remember your stakeholders.
Perhaps in the future, Amazon will remember how they became the industry’s leader and not fall victim to becoming a case study on “what not to do.”