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Amazon’s ‘cereal killer’ tweet provokes backlash after Sunday’s mass shooting

June 13, 2016 02:38 PM
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Amazon.com Inc. is facing digital backlash following a tweet that was posted just hours after 49 people were killed and more than 50 others injured inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, posted a tweet of a ceramic bowl with the words “cereal killer” and a red splatter pattern that resembles  bloodstains on it, along with “#Guilty” and a link where shoppers could buy the product. The tweet, time-stamped at 10 a.m. Central on Sunday, was posted as U.S. consumers were learning about the mass shooting in Orlando and as details about the attack and the victims were trickling out.

The tweet remained online for about an hour before it became unavailable, and that was plenty of time to draw reaction from Twitter users who called the tweet “offensive” and “insensitive” and said it was poorly timed. The bowl, made by Ohio-based crafts manufacturer Dab-A-Do’s Ceramics, is no longer for sale on Amazon’s site, though it’s unclear as to whether Amazon or Dab-A-Do’s pulled the product. Dab-A-Do’s still had the bowl on its website for $25.

Neither Amazon nor Dab-A-Do’s returned requests for comment.

A Google search of “cereal killer bowl” and Amazon turns up results, but going to the Amazon page for the bowl generates a “Sorry, we couldn’t find that page” message.

Amazon uses social media marketing platform Sprinklr, which allows brands to schedule tweets and is the social media marketing vendor for four retailers in the Top 500. Social media marketing experts say it’s likely Amazon, which has 2.33 million followers on Twitter, scheduled this tweet in advance. Analysts say this latest incident shows that social media marketers must pay attention to current events at all times.

“Teams who are using automation to manage the scale of their social programs really need to pay attention to breaking news,” says Susan Etlinger, an analyst with business research and advisory firm Altimeter Group, a Prophet company. “The ‘cereal killer’ product, there you would’ve had to have predicted that there would be some kind of mass shooting. This gets into very uncomfortable territory. We’re seeing a lot more of these mass tragedies than we have in the past and it is on these brands to pay closer attention.”

“Marketers can use social tools to schedule posts in advance, but unless you're on top of things posts like this can be missed,” adds Erna Alfred Liousas, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst who focuses on social media.

Etlinger says retailers that sell any kind of violence-themed products—even something as seemingly innocuous as a cereal bowl—have to remain on high alert at all times when it comes to their social media presence to avoid backlash and damage to their brand should consumers find one a post offensive.

“If organizations do have content that is in some way potentially upsetting or offensive, they need to be really careful about any kind of machine-based posting that doesn’t include an element of human moderation,” she says.

Amazon removed the tweet, however the retailer has yet to publicly address how it was generated or the backlash from it. Should it? Analysts are split on that question.

“Amazon was half right in deleting the tweet because it was in poor taste at that time, but they really should’ve said ‘oops, we’re sorry,’” says analyst Rebecca Lieb. “If you’re putting content out there, you should be having somebody paying attention. Amazon is big enough that if they’re going to be playing in these big leagues, they should have the triage ready.”

“In general, brands should be mindful and not post anything that can be misinterpreted,” Liousas adds. “If by chance, something like this occurs, the brand should come forward, acknowledge the error and apologize.”

But Etlinger says an apology could come off as ham-handed.

“In some cases it makes sense to [apologize],” she says. “It can also be taken as self-aggrandizing or inserting yourself into a conversation that isn’t yours. If Amazon were to issue an apology, some portion of people would be happy to see that and others would feel that they’re calling too much attention to themselves in a time of tragedy.”

Here are a few examples of the backlash on Twitter...

 

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