Amazon has unveiled a team of employee advocates to combat negative sentiment about the brand on Twitter. We examine why some see the move as ill-conceived.
Back in October 2015, Amazon announced it was suing more than 1,000 people who had posted fake customer reviews on its website.
Further suits were filed in 2016, with the retail giant arguing that its reputation was at stake as a result of persistent offenders posting paid reviews for marketplace products to boost their average customer review scores.
Fast-forward to August 2018 and Amazon is fighting a new ‘review’ war, of its own making this time, thanks to the revelation that the company has been paying certain members of staff extra to post messages of advocacy about the company on Twitter.
The employees – referred to as ‘Amazon FC Ambassadors’, with uniformed Twitter handles and eerily nebulous bios – have been charged with the task of responding to any tweets published on the social network that are negative in their tone towards Amazon.
Some of the tweets so far have been abrupt, with many people subsequently questioning the validity of the accounts.
Whilst the debate over the legitimacy of the account owners will likely rumble on, one thing is certain – the advocates are all new Twitter users and have all clearly been given the same modus operandi by Amazon – to argue the case held against the retailer that its employees’ welfare and their workplace environment is deplorable.
Given that research highlights a clear connection between employee advocacy and customer trust, the rationale behind the project is understandable: employees are more than twice as trusted by consumers as the same brand’s CEO, senior executives, or even active customers.
Cisco research highlights that employees’ social media posts generate eight times the amount of engagement than a post from the employer itself.
However, the method of encouraging employee advocacy is one that’s seemingly stilted, in Amazon’s case.
“Advocacy is not just a PR tactic to build positive sentiment,” says Manish Dudharejia, on Business.com. “Embracing constructive criticism can lead to better advocacy because it allows for honest conversations about issues that business leaders may not be aware of.
One thing is certain – the advocates are all new Twitter users and have all clearly been given the same modus operandi by Amazon.
“However, your business can encourage employees to discuss their opinions on the mistakes your company has made, how things are changing, and suggestions for solutions. This creates constructive and authentic content that can provide leaders with some great ideas for new strategies straight from the source.”
Sarah Goodall, of Tribal Impact also states that employee advocacy isn’t something that can be overly uniformed, otherwise it can appear forced.
“Employees need to be emotionally connected to an employee advocacy program as much as they’re emotionally connected to your brand.
“If employee advocacy is introduced to streamline your communications, to boost marketing impressions or provide a content hub for social selling then you’re coming at it from the wrong perspective.”
Amazon’s case is unique given the sheer size of the company, and the revelations about working conditions at fulfilment centres that have dogged the retailer for a number of years.
First highlighted by the New York Times in 2015, an investigation into work practices by British tabloid The Sunday Mirror found one particular UK-based fulfilment centre was fostering an environment of painstaking physical labour, matched with oppressive Orwellian-style targets that meant many employees were unable to stop for toilet breaks, for fear of the scrutiny about their productivity.
In the US, Senator Bernie Sanders has repeatedly fired shots at Amazon for its working conditions, calling for more formal investigation into the gulf in employee pay. Whilst Amazon has stated Sanders’ campaign to be “inaccurate and misleading” it has seemingly led to the company retaliating with a charm offensive, culminating in its Twitter ambassador scheme.
Advocacy is not just a PR tactic to build positive sentiment
Whilst advocacy is crucial to that scheme, many experts believe focusing on employee engagement levels across the board is a better long-term solution for a business in Amazon’s position.
“If you’re trying to create great customer experiences you need to be aligning your employees to it well,” says Colin Shaw, founder of Beyond Philosophy.
“You need to find out what drives value for your employees just like you need to find out what drives value for your customers. You need to design your experience for your customers and what a surprise you need to design your employee experience as well.
“However, at present you’ve got employee engagement on one side of the fence, and you’ve got customer experience on the other side of the fence. Both of those topics are being seen to be important to business. Both of these strategies are becoming common now. But I don’t see a lot of organisations pulling them together.”
It may be one of the largest companies in the world but according to Forbes, customer experience is starting to lag at Amazon as a result of the ongoing revelations surround its employees.
“The New York Times received over 5800 comments to an overview of Amazon's management, describing the online retailer's ruthless culture,” Forbes contributor Katrina Stefanova writes.
“One reader shared: ‘Midway through this article, after reading stories of how employees going through devastating personal losses were treated, I cancelled my Audible membership, deleted my Kindle app, and will no longer be shopping from Amazon. I cannot support a company that so purposefully creates a negative environment for its employees. It's disgusting, it's immoral, and I hope others feel the same after reading this article’.
“While this is just one comment, the sentiment is hardly an exception.”
And seemingly, given the sheer volume of sceptical comments in response to Amazon’s FC Ambassador tweets, the retailer is going to have to do more if it is to yet prove to a wider audience that it is improving employee engagement levels across all of its global sites, and maintain its status as a leader in customer experience.
Otherwise, as with its ongoing issue with fake customer reviews, its fudged attempt to push employee advocacy messages out could yet have a long, damaging effect on its brand reputation.
About Chris Ward
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.