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’.
As a fan of the show, I enjoy watching John make an entertaining case for the failings of companies, governments and most recently - Mount Everest. But he is wrong on Amazon. Industry-leading $15 minimum wage and comprehensive benefits are just one of many programs we offer... https://t.co/3PACVFyJPa— Dave Clark (@davehclark) July 1, 2019
We are proud of the safe, quality work environment in our facilities - so much so that we offer tours to the public, ages six and up. But unlike over 100,000 other people this year, John and his producers did not take us up on our invitation to tour one of our facilities.— Dave Clark (@davehclark) July 1, 2019
If they had they would have met the amazing people who work in our operations. People whose passion and commitment are what makes the Amazon customer experience special. I am proud of our team and to suggest they would work in an environment like the one portrayed is insulting.— Dave Clark (@davehclark) July 1, 2019
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’.
I know several current and former employees of the Amazon warehouses, and you are hilariously out of touch with reality. Those jobs are like working in a meat grinder, and you're pushing this BS from a palacial, air conditioned, comfortable, humane environment.— 𝙍𝙤𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙩 𝙏 (@elsnaibs) July 2, 2019
As a former Amazon employee, with friends still working for Amazon, you, @davehclark, are completely and utterly wrong. The wage increases and benefits came at a price, and they don't apply to the majority contracted and temp employees Amazon employs to avoid the wages and benes.— John Robert Crist (@johnrobertcrist) July 2, 2019
Thank you for showing how out of touch you are with the actual operation and society as well.— Harry Brooke (@wtfharry92) July 2, 2019
Go live as an Amazon warehouse employee for a month. Then get back to us with a report of how awesome your business model is.
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.
Def not ok. Just sent a reminder to Tesla stores that we just want people to look forward to their next visit. That's what really matters.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 16, 2017
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.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.