"Amazon: the Internet company that doesn't understand the Internet" is my favorite of thousands of tweets on the subject of Amazon's sudden censorship of gay- or lesbian-themed books. The episode proved that even a well-liked, household-name company can pay a high price for not monitoring its brand in social media.
Over the weekend, thousands of people on Twitter, in blogs, on Facebook and in forums angrily noted that gay- and/or lesbian-themed books by James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, Jeanette Winterson and scores of others had been suddenly removed from Amazon listings and search results.
UPDATE: In the too little, too late department, Amazon finally responded tonight, by saying the incident is "embarrassing and ham-fisted."
Amazon quickly learned a bitter lesson about the hashtags that are used to track and widen conversation on Twitter, as #amazonfail became the leading trend topic on the 9 million-member microblogging network.
Earlier today, Amazon called the incident a "glitch," and Gawker and others reported that a hacker nicknamed Weev claimed credit for the episode, "saying that the whole escapade was the result of his exploitation of a vulnerability in Amazon's product-rating tools." The Twitter tag #glitchmyass soon gained steam.
All weekend, as the firestorm spread, Amazon maintained silence. Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, who's on Twitter, has yet to write a word about the brouhaha. Finally, today, Amazon's director of corporate communications, Patty Smith, blamed the issue on a "glitch," which was not explained.
Whether the incident is a glitch or the work of a hacker is rather beside the point. Amazon should have been monitoring its brand in social media 24/7. And clearly it wasn't. It should have responded much sooner and much more clearly. If it didn't know the cause, it should have said so and explained what it was doing to find out.
In this age of instant, firehose communication we live in, no company can afford to stop paying attention to what's being said about it online.
It's a joke among bloggers and other users of social media that you can cause a lot of trouble on weekends because big companies don't monitor their brands then. Ask Motrin. Or Target, or any number of other companies who've been caught with their monitors down.
Don't let your brand be next.