Dog fever: What happens when Amazon unexpectedly posts your product on Facebook

Or, why it pays to have a social-media strategy in place before you need it

Every day Amazon alerts its 26 million Facebook followers to a couple of quirky items for sale on its site. An R2D2 lunch box, a motorcycle-shaped pizza cutter, a banana slicer shaped like — well, a banana.

Exactly which items will be posted on any given day is anyone’s guess—including the manufacturers’. The retailing giant does not typically give advance notice to the people who make the items it shares with its followers.

Last Wednesday, it was Petzila’s turn. And it’s fair to say the company was caught a bit off guard.  

By 5 p.m., most of the staff of the tiny San Jose startup had left for the day. Just six weeks before, Petzila had started selling its first product: the Petzi Treat Cam, a remote camera, speaker and treat dispenser that pet owners control via a smartphone app. So far, about 5,000 units had been sold, mostly on Amazon at $170 a pop.

Soon after he’d left his desk, CEO David Clark saw his phone spring to life. Calls, texts and voicemails were suddenly flooding in. Apparently, Amazon had posted a video of the Treat Cam on its Facebook page. He told callers he was delighted with the exposure, but didn’t think much more of it.  

"Then within the next 15 minutes, my phone just exploded with messages, so I called my partner, Simon Milner, and asked him to check it out," he said. "And I headed back to the office."

It turned out that Amazon’s Facebook post (in honor of National Dog Day) had actually been up for nearly three hours at that point. Why it took so long for the calls to start coming in, Clark can’t say. Perhaps a larger company, or one with more experience monitoring its social activity in real time, would have noticed it sooner.

By the time Petzila knew that Amazon had shared its product with its millions of followers — many of whom are diehard dog lovers, apparently — it was too late to formulate a plan. All Petzila could do was react .

Back at the office, texts, phone calls and IMs were pouring in, and Clark joined a few employees to watch the video’s stats. He started watching at 40,000 views, which quickly leapt to 52,000 views and about 200 comments — with no slowdown in sight.  

"We shot out an email to our team of 20, calling all hands of deck,"  Clark siad. Some rushed back to their desks and others sprang into action at home. Everyone logged onto Facebook.

"We had no planned social-media strategy," Clark said.  "We made up our strategy out of necessity, and it evolved as we went along."

The plan, conceived on the spot, was to do everything in the company’s power to harness the enthusiasm for the product into sales. That meant liking or responding to every comment, and correcting misinformation that threatened to spoil the rally.

For instance, several prospective customers said that their dog  would probably try to eat the gadget to get at the treats within. Staffers were quick to address these concerns, noting that the dispenser could be mounted on the wall or placed on a high bookshelf.

"So far, no Petzi Treat Cams have been eaten by dogs," the company replied to one such commenter. "But I understand the concern."

"Saw it on Shark Tank," wrote one confused Facebook commenter. "Basically your iPad." 

"Hi Bobbie, " replied Petzilla. "That wasn't us on Shark Tank."

Over the next four hours, the video gained another 10,000 views per hour, with another thousand people sharing or liking it. The team, glued to their screens, made a meal out of popcorn, peanuts and other snacks scrounged from the office pantry. "We all knew this was a seminal moment, and it was happening in real time," Clark said. "No one went out to bring back dinner."

By about 9:30 p.m. Pacific time, the video had attracted 57,000 views, 2,117 likes and 1,818 shares. The pace slowed after that, but revved up again about 5:30 a.m., when the East Coast started its day. Because of the high volume of responses, Petzila’s video stayed toward the top of Amazon’s Facebook newsfeed, and by noon Thursday had garnered about 100,000 views, 3,400 likes and more than 400 comments.

In the two days after the post first appeared on Facebook, sales shot up more than 400%, said Clark. Four days later, sales were still going strong.

And apparently, Petzila wasn’t the only ones pleased with the results.  On Monday, the startup was invited to a rare meeting with Amazon in Seattle to discuss how else they might promote the product together.

"We saw this opportunity as an evolutionary form of marketing, using the existing Facebook conversations and enthusiasm, which are so powerful," Clark said. "And it was all unfolding for us in real-time." He added that In the future, his team hopes to have a strategy in place before such surprises.

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