There's a saying that goes something like "Never pick a fight with someone who will fundraise off your win." Actually, I don't know if that's a saying, but it is a cautionary tale that perfectly describes the problem with Amazon's social media strategy lately. The company's official Twitter account has been picking fights with politicians on Twitter, and there's no way it will end well.
It's not that politicians are particularly sympathetic targets, but they're just better at this kind of fight. And, by this kind of fight, I mean the type where specific facts aren't nearly as important as the overall narrative being told.
Politicians literally do that for a living. That alone makes it a pretty risky tactic in general. Even if you score a win, you're just giving your opponent material for a fundraising email, giving them the fuel to come back for another fight. It's just not worth it.
Let me be clear--I'm not suggesting Amazon is necessarily wrong. That still doesn't mean this is the right approach.
Take, for example, the company's response to the news that Senator Bernie Sanders planned to visit Alabama, where workers are voting whether to unionize a distribution center there. My colleague Bill Murphy Jr. wrote about Dave Clark's response, which was then retweeted by the company's official account.
Or the company's fight with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said she intended to pass legislation to close loopholes used by companies like Amazon, to be sure they pay more in taxes. Amazon responded that it was Warren who writes those tax laws and the company only follows them.
The feud escalated from there, with Warren suggesting that Amazon should be broken up so it isn't "powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets." Amazon then took exception to the suggestion that Warren wanted to break up the company so that it could no longer criticize her.
It also previously responded to a New York congressman about a tweet referring to reports that Amazon workers are having to use bottles to relieve themselves because of their harsh working conditions. Amazon's official account responded, "You don't really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?"
Except, it turns out, it very well might be true, according to reports from various news sources. Whether it's happening or not, Amazon's very public response--with such a condescending tone--puts it in a pretty tough position.
I don't know anyone who thinks that people who work for Amazon should endure working conditions that would require them to pee in a plastic bottle. For that matter, there are very few people who would argue that Amazon "shouldn't" be broken up who don't already work at Amazon.
Mostly, there are people who think that's a good idea, and then there is everyone else--who couldn't really care less. The latter group just wants whatever they order online to show up in front of their door the next day. What they don't want is to feel like they're giving their money to a greedy, ornery corporation that is out of touch with their lives.
To make things worse, Recode reported that the tweets came directly in response to a directive from Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, who felt the company wasn't pushing back hard enough on critics. If you're responding emotionally because you're upset someone is saying mean things about you or your company, you've probably lost sight of the bigger picture, and you've definitely lost the battle.
By picking these fights, Amazon isn't really winning points from anyone. At the same time, it's a bad look for a company that millions of people already trust to deliver everything from books, to toilet paper, to shoes, to the latest gadgets.
Usually, a much better approach is to try and persuade people--to win them over. Sure, in this particular case, there's probably no amount of persuasion that would turn Sanders or Warren into an ally for Amazon. That's why the fight was never going to be worth it in the first place.
It's actually a powerful lesson for every leader--don't pick fights where, even if you don't lose, the other person wins anyway. Especially since you're likely to help their case in the process. If it is a battle worth fighting, instead of condescension and snark, try a little humility and humor.
Even if you don't win over your opponent, you're far more likely to persuade everyone else who might be watching. In the end, that's a much bigger win.