Using Twitter to Respond to a PR Crisis – Amazon.com Failed To Act

I try to unplug during many weekends. Part of that is the fact that I have two small children, and I’m spending most weekends doing dad things. Another reason is that I like to try and take a break from the firehose of constant info that I’m dealing with throughout the week.

So, I was certainly surprised to check Twitter while waiting for a table at a sushi restaurant late Sunday afternoon and see post after post re: AmazonFail (lots of background info here, here, and here). If you’re not in the loop, Amazon began removing sales rankings from a wide variety of books over the weekends. And, surprise, surprise, almost 100% of the titles affected were books dealing with gay, lesbian, and transgender issues. Sales rankings can impact whether or not a book shows up on Amazon’s various bestseller lists and in customer searches on the site.

Regardless of what actually happened, a) Amazon made the egregious decision to delist numerous gay, lesbian, and transgender books, or b) there was a genuine backend computer glitch that resulted in the delisting, Amazon compounded their mistakes by not using social media to deal with this PR crisis.

I just checked out Amazon’s twitter account. As of 1:40 p.m. ET on Monday, April 13th, more than 24 hours after this PR crisis started, Amazon’s latest twitter message reads, “Amazon Daily: The Bldg Blog Book: The Blog Made Flesh http://bit.ly/uK5babout 16 hours ago from Perl Net::Twitter.”

I’m sure there were panicked conference calls yesterday among various Amazon.com execs. But the company’s PR response was to give the same exact statement/quote to multiple journalists reporting the story, ““We recently discovered a glitch to our Amazon sales rank feature that is in the process of being fixed.  We’re working to correct the problem as quickly as possible.”

Why didn’t Amazon.com use Twitter to respond to the crisis – a crisis that could have an impact on their revenue/sales since many of the Twitter posters were threatening boycotts?

Here’s what I would have recommended.

1. Figure out what the hell happened, and figure out what we’re going to do to correct the mistake. And, let’s figure out how we want to communicate ASAP what happened to our customers and the press.

2. Communicate what happened to reporters proactively – call the top 25-30 reporters who routinely cover Amazon.com – and respond quickly to any incoming calls from reporters.

3. Communicate what happened via Amazon.com’s twitter account. I would recommend hourly updates too – either repost the same basic explanation or add any additional info that surfaces.

4. Respond to #amazonfail posts on Twitter with explanation of what happened. This could get tedious – and wouldn’t scale. However, if Amazon.com’s corporate communications team had responded to 25-30 complaints per hour yesterday afternoon, they would have gone a long way in turning the conversation around.

How would you use Twitter and other Social Media tools to deal with a PR crisis?

  • I agree, Jeff. My latest blog post deals with this.

  • Interesting post at your blog Raul. Re: Karen Cook's comment about Amazon execs huddling in a conference room, I agree. But with the speed of today's news cycle, they should have reached a decision on a PR strategy at least by late last night Pacific Time, and they should be out communicating today all over the place.

    But, this doesn't surprise me from what I've observed with Amazon.com over the years. Despite portraying Bezos and the company as early technology adopters, they're very much in the outdated broadcast mode of PR. They want PR on their terms. They're evasive when someone is asking questions they don't want to answer – everything from why did you suddenly exclude all these books from your sales rankings to how many Kindles have you sold.

  • Niki

    I'd add:

    5. Make a hefty donation to a LGBT organization.
    6. Feature LGBT authors for a month.
    7. Offer LGBT titles at a discount for said month.

    Something positive to spin this debacle.

  • Hey Jeff,
    Excellent points and ideas. I agree with you and I like Niki's #5-7 too. Maybe it will be a big LGBT community boost in the end!

    I finalized and posted a new blog post today that has been on my mind. Linking to your Amazon story was the perfect ending to my post. It's a list of what organizations must do if they're not on Twitter yet.
    http://www.valnelson.com/social-media/6-musts-i

    Can't wait to send folks your way for expert PR help. You have just the right savviness for World 2.0.

  • Pingback: 6 Musts If Not on Twitter Yet | WebFlowology - Val Nelson()

  • Hey Jeff,
    Excellent points and ideas. I agree with you and I like Niki's #5-7 too. Maybe it will be a big LGBT community boost in the end!

    I finalized and posted a new blog post today that has been on my mind. Linking to your Amazon story was the perfect ending to my post. It's a list of what organizations must do if they're not on Twitter yet.
    http://www.valnelson.com/social-media/6-musts-i

    Can't wait to send folks your way for expert PR help. You have just the right savviness for World 2.0.