Long before the news was labeled fake and political speech was labeled lies, there existed something called natural human skepticism.
Many companies didn’t believe in it.
After all, they had money. Money gave them power. Power gave them the ability to tell others how things were and what to do.
They thought that if they told people about their product, those people would listen and, most importantly, believe.
I understand it still happens today. Tech companies harangue their PR agencies about their woeful widgets and simply cannot understand why everyone doesn’t want to hear about them or doesn’t believe they’re any good.
I was moved to a quaint shudder, though, when I heard one of the more fascinating attempts by a tech company to influence humans didn’t work quite as planned.
Should you have somehow missed it, Amazon asked its employees to tweet about how lovely it was to work in the company’s expansive warehouses, despite others claiming this might not be so.
Well, they’re not called fulfillment centers for nothing, are they? You work there to be fulfilled.
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The joy of this marketing wheeze was that Amazon paid its employees to do the tweeting.
Were humans supposed to be moved by this commercial generosity? Did it make these tweets more persuasive?
I confess I wondered. I feared humans might see through it all. I feared they might not like it at all.
And so it was that I was confronted by a recent Financial Times headline that read: “Amazon abandons influence campaign designed to attract staff.”
The abandonment apparently occurred at the end of last year. The wheeze, according to the FT, was disappeared because it suffered from “poor reach” as well as “embarrassing backfires.”
You’ll be startled to hear that one of those backfires was witty people setting up their own Twitter accounts, to sound like people who work at Amazon. Unhappy people who work at Amazon. Apparently, there may be some.
It’s believable that there are many people working in Amazon’s warehouses for whom the job is infinitely better than one they had before.
The issue here, though, was surely human.
If people know that your employees are being paid to emit happy tweets, they’re unlikely to be moved by their genuine flavor.
Moreover, if they happen to spot that more than one Amazon employee is tweeting exactly the same thing, in more or less the same words, they’re likely to be moved in an opposite direction.
Especially if the tweeting turns into the sort of angerfest for which Twitter exists.
As the FT put it: “Handpicked workers were told to reply in a ‘blunt’ but polite’ manner to what the company considered untruths posted by politicians, labour rights activists and indeed any other critics, although they were told not to target journalists.”
A relief, that last part.
For a company that boasts of its obsessive focus on human consumers, it’s a touch remarkable that the marketing types didn’t wonder whether human consumers would react positively.
Especially after lauded founder Jeff Bezos returned from a brief sojourn in space and declared: “I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.”
If you’re going to use your employees to market your brand, you’d better make sure it’s something they really want to do. As opposed to just doing it to make a few extra dollars.
Too many humans can see right through that.
Yet there’s something too many humans don’t see through so well.
The reason why these vast, stress-garlanded fulfillment centers exist — and are multiplying — is because human consumers think that everything they want should be delivered to them instantly in a cardboard box.
Is that the modern definition of fulfillment?
I fear it might be.