Amazon’s warehouse workers become social cheerleaders

Discussion
Source: Amazon
Aug 29, 2018
Matthew Stern

Amazon has had to deal with talk of poor or at least tough working conditions at its fulfilment centers. And apparently a company PR strategy meant, presumably, to improve Amazon’s image with socially-conscious e-commerce customers is creating some bad PR of its own.

Twitter users noticed that a group of “FC Ambassadors,” a team of 15 Twitter users who work in Amazon’s fulfilment centers, has been established to rebut Twitter complaints about working conditions. Critics read the move as Amazon doing damage control, or even disseminating corporate disinformation, deploying the accounts to “foil any reports of bad working conditions through tweets promoting the company’s greatness,” according to Complex.

Indeed, tweets featured in media reports show FC Ambassadors firing back at Twitter users questioning whether Amazon warehouse workers are treated and paid fairly. Ambassadors insist they’re not overworked, paid well and don’t have to — or know any other Amazon employees who have to — use food stamps. Some defend Jeff Bezos, and others link their tweets to warehouse tours.

“FC ambassadors are employees who understand what it’s actually like to work in our FCs,” said Amazon in a statement released to several media outlets. “The most important thing is that they’ve been here long enough to honestly share the facts based on personal experience. It’s important that we do a good job of educating people about the actual environment inside our fulfillment centers, and the FC ambassador program is a big part of that, along with the FC tours we provide.”

https://twitter.com/AmazonFCPhil/status/1033733556474994695

Ambassadors contend that they are not paid extra for towing the company line. A former FC ambassador confirmed to Yahoo Finance that no extra pay is involved. While being an ambassador is voluntary, perks include a day off, an Amazon gift card and time away from packing boxes.

The discovery of the Ambassadors programs comes as reports from nonprofit agency New Food Economy and Policy Matters Ohio described in Business Insider revealed at least five states in which significant numbers of Amazon employees are on SNAP assistance. Amazon argues that the numbers represent employees who prefer part-time roles.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it fair game for Amazon to encourage or incentivize positive comments on social media from staff about working conditions at fulfillment centers? Are there better ways for Amazon to respond to critics? Are you basically for or against motivating workers to spread company PR?

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Braintrust
"'All is fair in love and war ... and online reviews -- PROVIDED that the reviews are authentic, honest, not paid for and not curated."
"When critics are rebutted with sincerity, that’s one thing. When the rebuttals are incentivized, that’s another. "
"The public may buy these “sponsored” testimonials. After all, there is one born every minute."

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22 Comments on "Amazon’s warehouse workers become social cheerleaders"


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Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

What? I just don’t think it sounds sincere when you incentivize associates to post positive rebuttals on Twitter. If Amazon has a brewing publicity problem with this issue, they certainly have the money to assign some of the best public relation minds to reposition the incorrect public perceptions. I would hate to hear associates are writing tweets like crazy just for incentives.

Shelley E. Kohan
BrainTrust

Today’s employees want to be able to share and provide feedback to employers (good or bad) and opportunities to provide feedback should be part of a company culture. There are many social media outlets and websites (Glassdoor) that are avenues for employees to express themselves. All too often, disengaged employees are the ones that utilize the external outlets to complain. There is no issue for companies to ask employees to post positives about the company. One of the best recruitment methods is referrals. A company should never ask employees to lie or post false accolades. The ambassador program is wonderful and provides intrinsic rewards for employees.

David Katz
BrainTrust

“All is fair in love and war … ” and online reviews — PROVIDED that the reviews are authentic, honest, not paid for and not curated. Motivation is one thing, incentives, rewards and punishment are another.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Authenticity is the critical factor here and it could be compromised because of the incentives involved. I’m all for employees sharing on social media; however, if it’s not the truth, it’s just more noise.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Social media engagement, reputation management and public relations are an essential part of the retail ecosystem. However, poor working conditions, low pay, temporary help and unsatisfactory working conditions will always breed dissent — both in terms of ineffective worker productivity and a public impression that a business is covering up poor work conditions.

Retailers would be better served by being transparent, collecting unbiased testimonials from workers and highlighting successful treatment and compensation for employees (as long as it’s true). Competitors like Walmart and Target have been converting their workers into a PR advantage by raising pay, improving work environment quality and reducing turnover — in DCs and stores. The consumer will be able to find clarity or confusion — and even the slightest of the latter will reduce trust in the brand.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Of course, if people like working there it’s fine for them to say so — and in this day and age, they’re going to talk about it on social media if they like it a lot. Thing is, I would think you’d like that to happen organically first, because if employees don’t like it, that is FOR SURE going to come out organically (i.e. on Glassdoor or whatever).

Having said that, I also don’t think it’s bad to ask your really happy employees to post that they’re really happy. So what? As long as they’re not being paid to do so and they are, in fact, really happy that is. How many Chevy truck commercials have you seen where they say “not actors” and the people go on and on about how they love those trucks? I never saw any negative publicity about that, and you know they’re being paid — right?

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It doesn’t matter if it’s Amazon or any other company. There will always be employees who are happy. They are they are cheerleaders. And there will always be employees — in the same organization — who are disappointed with their job, pay, raises, days off, etc. Even the way they are treated. In an organization of this size, it is impossible to hide a far-reaching “scandal” of mistreated employees. Someone is going to talk. There are plenty of social channels — and the Glassdoor.com website.

Asking happy employees to help spread the word is fine. They should want to do it anyway. And many of them do. In an era where unemployment is at its lowest in years, companies need to do well by their employees so they want to work there, stay engaged and put forth their best effort.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

The idea that Amazon would pay some fulfillment center employees for positive comments can also open Pandora’s Box. The practice could bring to the front more discontent once employees realize that things are not so great as they themselves said they were.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Amazon should be getting bad PR for this move. It’s not the least bit a problem that Amazon is challenging stories in the press — we know that sometimes the press gets things right and sometimes exaggerates dramatically to make a good story.

The issue is that they’ve apparently tried to do it under the radar, with a cadre of employees — all raising more questions about credibility and authenticity than they help get rid of.

There’s nothing to suggest that a small group of Amazon-backed employees is telling the truth any better than a press which might be exaggerating the bad. There are better ways to handle a response.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

A good lesson here is what Zappos does with their Culture Book. Extremely powerful — unsolicited and uncompensated.

Anne Howe
Guest

Zappos Culture Books are awesome. They tell an honest story from the heart of the company each and every year.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

If every five star review on Amazon came from an employee would it really be a five star review?

People post both good and bad comments about where they work every day on social media. If the Amazon Ambassador tweets are how these employees really feel, great, but if they are incentivized that’s an entirely different story.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Online reviews can be critical or positive depending on the situation causing the reviewer to comment. A company has the right to respond in kind. Having employees do it is no different than any other company’s employees responding to a customer request. Even in the court of public opinion, both sides have a right to be heard.

Jennifer McDermott
Guest

A brand’s employees have the potential to be some of its most powerful advocates. Companies should be employing and retaining people who genuinely align with their values. While I think it’s fine to provide a guideline and pathway for employees to share on social media, should they feel inclined, providing incentives for doing so shreds all credibility.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

When critics are rebutted with sincerity, that’s one thing. When the rebuttals are incentivized, that’s another. Surely Amazon can come up with better ways to spread good news about their working conditions. I like Rich Kizer’s mention of the Zappos Culture Book. And that’s my 2 cents.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Whatever happened to the employers’ right that their employees speak positively about the company and keep quiet when opportunities for negatives arise. There is always the potential for both and providing commentary without context is likely not worth the time.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Incentivizing employees with perks and/or the possibility of promotion and/or as part of an official position as a Fulfillment Center Ambassador is not appropriate. How can anyone assume that opinions are freely given in this circumstance? This approach only makes a difficult situation even more problematic.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Putting you best foot forward in today’s digital world means using social media to your advantage. Amazon is doing just that. As long as they are adhering to the tenets outlined in David’s comment, Amazon’s actions fall within acceptable practices. There is no question that there are many negative comments being made by others about working in Amazon’s fulfillment centers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Fair or not, it’s the nature of social media to promote vested interest, opinion and bias. Objectively, the answer is, “No,” but pragmatically, social media platforms are used to promote every bias known to man and to spread disinformation on a minute-by-minute basis, and people will say almost anything given the right inducements. The phrase caveat emptor could have been created to describe how people should approach these platforms.

And isn’t this really just a digital extension of corporate marketing and PR? Look at ads for lawyers on television that feature, “actual clients,” whom — one assumes — all got decent settlements. What you don’t hear from are clients whose cases were bartered out, who lost, or who ended up putting almost nothing in their pockets. Nor do you see information on average settlements. So, Amazon is essentially doing the same thing with FC workers. The public may buy these “sponsored” testimonials. After all, there is one born every minute.

Mark Price
BrainTrust
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
1 year 4 months ago

The core of social media is authenticity. I am not sure that the social media effort of the FC ambassadors fits that requirement. Ideally, Amazon would highlight to the organization the wish for them to engage on social media, if they would like to. Then the company would stay studiously away from that effort in order to keep it original, spontaneous and genuine. Trying to “manage” the effort, in terms of recruitment and incentives, is sure to be perceived as a violation of trust.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
1 year 4 months ago

I don’t think it is authentic to portray the FC Ambassadors as volunteer and unbiased. Ambassadors contend that they are not paid extra for towing the company line, but they are compensated with special perks: a day off, an Amazon gift card and time away from packing boxes. I doubt that they would be allowed to be FC Ambassadors very long if they started to speak poorly about their work conditions.

It is certainly understandable and acceptable for companies to have paid staff respond to negative comments with clarifications on inaccurate comments or explain what the company plans to do to make things better. However, doing this with “volunteers” that are cherry-picked to be cheerleaders, is probably not well received by the workforce.

William Hogben
BrainTrust

It’s not a fair game, but with so many players trying to shape the conversation online, it’s not unexpected either. We can’t control what makes it online, so the best bet is to make sure you, your friends and your kids understand the way online conversation shaping works and can apply critical thinking and skepticism.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"'All is fair in love and war ... and online reviews -- PROVIDED that the reviews are authentic, honest, not paid for and not curated."
"When critics are rebutted with sincerity, that’s one thing. When the rebuttals are incentivized, that’s another. "
"The public may buy these “sponsored” testimonials. After all, there is one born every minute."

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