Was this a good response to a damaging story?

How would you react if you saw a damaging report about your company on TV?

Would you be tempted to fire back from your personal social media account?

Well, that was what one senior executive of the Amazon team did after seeing a damning 20 minutes segment on the company on the Last Week Tonight news comedy show in America.

Presenter John Oliver slammed the company’s working conditions, saying that the convenience of using the online shopping and streaming company came at a human cost.

He said: “Because, think about it, we used to have to drive to stores to buy things. Now those things are brought directly to us and they’re somehow cheaper.

“That didn’t just happen with a clever algorithm — it happened by creating a system that squeezes the people lowest on the ladder hard and all the while, the man behind Amazon is now worth $118 billion, more than anyone else in the world.”

He also accused the company of union-busting, exerting excessive managerial control over employees, and encouraging high levels of injury and sickness.

All damaging stuff which did not go down well with Dave Clark, the company’s senior vice president of operations.

He took to his Twitter account to defend the company in a series of tweets, which labelled the story ‘insulting’.



So, was this a good way to respond to a negative story or potential crisis media management incident?


Prolonged the coverage

There are many benefits to senior leaders being active on social media, but there has to be an awareness that issuing a personal response to a negative story – particularly a delayed one - can keep the story in the news for longer.

Mr Clark’s actions, replying the following day, certainly kept the story in the news with a fresh batch of headlines. Here are a few examples:

Amazon executive responds to ‘Last Week Tonight’ segment on warehouse conditions Fox Business

An Amazon executive snapped back at John Oliver after his stinging attack on the firm’s ‘brutal’ working conditions Business Insider

Amazon exec fires back at John Oliver after HBO segment on warehouses Chicago Tribune


Social media criticism

It also breathed fresh impetus on the story on social media and opened him up to criticism, particularly from people claiming to be current or former Amazon workers.

A number of replies to his tweet accused him of being ‘out of touch’, ‘utterly wrong’, and ‘glib’.




For me, Mr Clark’s tweets struck the wrong tone. He came across as being too defensive.

A better approach would have been to add some humility, responsibility, and a willingness to improve into the response.

Perhaps, he could have said something like, "While the programme does not show the Amazon I know, we are always looking to improve conditions for our workers. We will look at the points that have been raised and will work with our employees to consider improvements.”

Tesla boss Elon Musk has had his own trials and tribulations on Twitter, but there are some good examples of him responding to criticism from disgruntled customers with action and responsibility.



The reaction to Mr Clark’s tweets shouldn’t put CEOs off responding to bad stories and crisis media management incidents on social media, because when it is done well it can help.  

Taking to personal social media channels can add an important human touch and show the visible leadership which is so crucial in successful crisis media management.

But these responses need to be considered, in line with the corporate message, calm and timely – angry, overly defensive tweets will only serve to make a bad situation worse.


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