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If you type #AmazonFAIL into the search window
of Twitter today, you are likely to find a wealth of posts and articles about
Amazon.com’s recent embarrassing mistake. Somehow, the company that some credit
with inventing consumer electronic commerce by selling books online has
overnight managed to earn a reputation as a virtual book burner.

Amazon.com was accused of virtually banning books by removing the sales
rankings of many well-known gay and lesbian books. Amazon.com subsequently
issued a statement saying gay and lesbian books had not been singled out and that
the incident was a glitch that affected books of a sexual nature, including
some health-related books.

Click here to read more about the controversy over Amazon.com books losing their sales rankings.

So some consumers and authors cried book ban, Amazon.com took its time to issue
a statement calling it a "ham-fisted" error affecting 57,310 books,
and others speculated as to whether the Internet commerce giant was covering up
the fact that it had been hacked, a claim made by a hacker that Amazon.com denied.

An Associated Press account of the incident says authors were contacted by
Amazon.com well in advance of the incident and told their books would be placed
in an "Adult" category. Affected authors included James Baldwin and
Gore Vidal.

There’s so much intrigue in this story that has yet to play itself out, and it
will probably be weeks before we know what really happened, if we ever learn
the truth.

But one lesson to be learned by businesses of all types is that today’s
consumers, customers and clients have more of a voice than they ever have had before.
They can communicate with each other and band together, with or without any
company’s permission or consent. They can spread negative publicity about your
business in a flash—as quickly as they can type the characters
"#AmazonFAIL" and hit return.

In an age when customers can connect with each other via social networking sites
and services such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s time to start monitoring those
networks. And maybe it is even time to start leveraging their power for
positive promotion of your company.