“Amazon Fail” – the problems of large companies

I’ve been watching the whole “Amazon Fail” thing with some interest. I won’t rehash the story – here’s a good write up, one of many.

Aside from the whole values thing – which is a personal thing and isn’t really interesting – more interesting is “How on earth did this happen?”.

Either this was a thing sanctioned at the highest levels, in which case you’d expect there was full engagement up the management tree, and they’d be all over the reaction and managing it. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Or someone in Amazon allowed their personal views to over-influence an initiative they’d been entrusted with. Perhaps there was a view that some categories of books (really really extreme stuff) shouldn’t be promoted, so a project was setup to do something about it. Code was written to allow certain books to be suppressed from rankings. Someone was given the task of deciding what – and their view of what should be suppressed was perhaps a little wider than one would expect. Either they didn’t appreciate the backlash would occur or didn’t care.

This second choice fits better with the available data – they appear to be somewhat taken aback with the reaction. There’s no coordinated response, and in fact deafening silence really. Why don’t they have a rapid response team – it wouldn’t take more than one person with a brain, surely.

One thing that does occur – this is a massive failure of leadership from a company we’d all expect to be very Internet-savvy. Their senior guys should be out in front of this, very visible, engaging with their customers. So far, nowhere to be seen.

This raises an interesting question – large companies are totally thrown by The Internet, The Social Web etc. They can’t seem to think at the same rate as Twitter – but they’re going to need to find a way or die. Amazon’s brand has taken a real hammering these past few days.

Some would say that the solution is for large companies to develop a more human face, perhaps even a soul. I’m not sure that’s possible given the nature of “the organisation”. Maybe this is another area where small, focused companies have the advantage – they’re smaller so they’re going to have a tighter culture, and quicker decision making paths. Plus they get to make lots of small mistakes, rather than lots of really big visible mistakes.

There’s lots of dicsussion about the problems of being a small company Vs the large company. I have to wonder if that’s being turned on it’s head, and now the problem is how do you overcome the disadvantages of large companies – something that’s been confronted before (in history, it took a while to figure out how to run a large company) but we kind of thought the problem was solved – big was always good! And then The Internet arrived, with a whole new set of problems, which I think we’re still struggling with.

Update: Here’s the report on Channel 4 news. Where’s Amazon here? Currently we’re only hearing from overwhelmed low level people – this is a time for the CEO to step up. Either he doesn’t realise what’s happening (ooohhhh dear) or he does and doesn’t know what to do (even worse). It must suck to run an International brand but then again, don’t play if you cant’ keep up.

Update 2: Maybe it’s a hacker. Which is plausible (but unverified). Still doesn’t excuse or explain Amazon’s paralysis. Why don’t they have one person who can evaluate the situation and respond with integrity?

Update 3: from @allisoncoles: (she’s perceptive/devious!) – if you were Amazon, and were in this much dodo – wouldn’t you want it to be a “hacker” who did all those mean things? How much would it be worth? So much easier than ‘fessing up.

Update4: There’s a post on one of the BBC blogs which wraps it all up, and apparently Amazon have given a rather strange apology. They’re acting very corporate about all this – not sure that’s the right approach. They’ve just left so many questions hanging.

Update 5: Here’s a good article on the impact of social media and large companies.