I’m currently sitting on a hillside somewhere in Tuscany with a rather slow internet connection but thought it was worth a quick note to highlight a post on a (former) Amway Diamond’s blog – Doug Wead, Amway Adventure. He gives a personal example of the Amway Internet Echo Chamber effect and how falsehoods spread by anti-Amway critics about his Amway experience have affected his reputation. I may do a further post on this when I’m back at my regular blogging desk in a couple of weeks.
My last post about Amway Global Accreditation and Bob McEwen’s speech at Yager Internet’s conference has sparked a great deal of discussion, both on the comments here, on Amway Talk, and elsewhere. Of interest was two quite contrasting camps – a significant number of folk were supportive of my comments and expressed dismay at this type of talk occuring at Amway seminars. Numerous Amway critics, many of whom previously associated with the Yager system and it’s offshoots, also commented that political and religious evangelism was one of the aspects of their Amway experience they found most off-putting. A number of current IBOs, including self-identified “conservatives” also expressed their discomfort at these types of talks and their belief they had no place in Amway-related meetings.
As people who follow my blog know, it’s my opinion that a significant part of Amway’s struggles with growth in english speaking markets the past decade has been due to the influence of the internet. Back in the late 90s, early 00’s Amway made a conscious decision to effectively ban Amway business owners from posting on the internet. The end result was that the internet was effectively left to Amway critics and anyone using the internet to research the Amway business would be left with an overwhelmingly negative perspective, something I covered in The Internet War Against Amway Part I and Part II.
I entered the fray with the idea of trying to supply some balance. Like most things in life, Amway and Amway business owners are not perfect, but the internet focussed almost exclusively on “the negative” and the things that were wrong or needed improvement as well as acting as an echo chamber for myths and falsehoods. One example of the “balance” problem is the Amway article on Wikipedia, which has a large section devoted to controversies around Amway, yet little about the hundreds of awards that Amway has won, Amway’s global philanthropy, or the literally thousands of people who have reached significant levels of income through Amway.
So my “mission”, you might say, has been to focus on Amway’s positives, to try and provide some balance for folk researching on the internet. I haven’t completely ignored controversy or legitimate areas of concern, but in allocating my time and energy I’m focussed on getting the positive story out.
It was thus with a little disappointment that I initially followed Chuck Lia’s Speaking about Amway blog. While highly thoughtful and intelligent, I thought Chuck’s posts focussed a little too heavily on problem issues, and how he thought things could be improved. This is certainly a legitimate and useful thing to do, but frankly I thought we needed to get back to a somewhat more level internet playing field first, rather than have yet another person pile on the Amway critic bandwagon, even as an ostensibly friendly voice.
Well, after a 3 month hiatus, filled with great posts by rdknyvr, Chuck is back with a new post Speaking of Amway tacks into a fresh breeze with a focus on getting people to talk about what’s good about Amway.
What’s the irony? Well, just a few posts ago I posted with a criticism of some Amway IBOs, and my next post, coming later today, is going to be a bit of virulent rant against the actions of a major Amway organisation and the fact it’s endorsed by Amway Corporation.
So it’s a good thing you’re adding some “positive” balance Chuck, cause I’ve got steam coming out of my ears!
The Internet War Against Amway is not a traditional war with General’s directing units to attack our weaknesses (at least I don’t think so!). The war is more like the kind of “war” some religious or political fundamentalists wage. There is a relatively small number of people who believe they know “the truth” and they are obsessed with spreading this “truth” and “saving” people – and they don’t care about any innocent folk who might be hurt in the process, or the possibility that they themselves may be wrong. Continue reading
This is perhaps the most important post I have written, it’s my hope that Amway and the IBOAI is reading.
It’s been my opinion that a major component of Amway’s struggles for growth, particularly in english speaking markets, has been the Internet and Amway’s misguided decision some years ago to effectively leave Internet discussion about Amway to the critics (read Amway and the Internet – A History Part I). In my view, neither Amway nor any of the major leadership’s truly understand the magnitude of the effect that a relatively small number of internet critics have had on the Amway business.
Now I’ve got data to back it up, and it is far worse than even I imagined. Continue reading
As the 1990s came to a close more and more people began to connect to the internet. The internet is an amazing resource for information. You can, like I did when writing these articles, find out in moments all about the amygdala. You can check for train timetables in Stockholm, or, quite literally look at the weather in Prague, or see what people think about the latest movie. You can also, of course, try to get that “inside information” on the latest gadgets you’re thinking of buying.
Indeed, researchers have discovered that for people with internet connections, the internet is the “go to” place for researching anything before you decide to purchase. Whether checking for movie reviews, or the latest digital camera, consumers get online and start googling.
For Amway (and Quixtar) for the past decade, this has not been a good thing.
Back in March 1996 a disgruntled former Amway distributor by the name of Ashley Wilkes began posting to a website he titled Amway Motivational Organizations (AMO’s): The Nightmare Builders. Two years earlier, his wife, who continued to be an Amway distributor, had divorced him, and he laid the blame squarely at the foot of the so-called “AMOs”. Not long after, other, similar sites began to appear, including Sidney Schwartz’s Amway: The Untold Story and later Scott Larsen’s Amway Distributor’s Little White Lies.
One of Amway’s early responses was threats of legal action against the site owners. Officially this action was part of an ongoing dispute with Proctor & Gamble. Amway had learned that P&G had paid Schwartz as a consultant on the case, and Amway apparently believed P&G may have had some other connection to the critical sites. The internet however was a hotbed of “freedom of information”, and the legal maneuvering was seen by many as nothing more than corporate bullying. This simply encouraged others to do what on the internet is surprisingly easy to do – copy and republish an entire website, a process called “mirroring“. Amway eventually succeeded in forcing Wilkes and Schwartz to close their websites, but by this time mirrors had appeared on literally dozens of internet servers around the world, including in locations not easily influenced by a legal approach. In addition they’d attracted the attention of internet freedom of speech activitists such as David Touretzky of Carnegie Mellon. Despite no personal experience with the Amway business, Touretzky launched yet another anti-Amway website.
The apparently successful attempts to close critical sites had simply made things worse.
Meanwhile, and reportedly at least partly in response to the increasing amount of “negative” about Amway on the internet, Amway began developing the new Quixtar opportunity. Many felt this may allow a “clean slate” for a new name and a new opportunity. Unfortunately, the internet rarely forgets, and folk leading the anti-Amway crusade on the ‘net quickly established the connection between Quixtar and Amway. Thus, anyone who searched the internet for Quixtar would learn of the connection and all of the “negative” Amway information.
Around this time, some Amway distributors, including myself in Australia and an American distributor by the name of James Eddy started to mount our own offensive. I began engaging in debates with Amway and Quixtar critics on UseNet, a then popular discussion forum, as well as launching a small pro-Amway website. James Eddy launched Amway Fact or Fiction: The Truth behind the Amway Enterprise (archive) and we both began to try to address the factual inaccuracies and exaggerations that the various critics sites were promoting. It was a losing battle however. Virtually by definition, as active Amway distributors also holding down jobs and running other businesses we had less time on our hands than the critics. Furthermore, at least on the ‘net, it seemed there were more critics than supporters. Why was this?
One reason was Amway’s rules. Amway has always had regulations against mass marketing of the Amway business opportunity, and they looked upon the internet in much the same way. As the launch of Quixtar approached, and indeed afterwards, there was a deal of paranoia about distributors, now called IBOs, sending out “spam” and making exaggerated or false claims that could put the company at legal risk. Amway rules required that all websites of Amway representatives must be approved by Amway and password protected. They actively contacted Amway IBOs who had launched websites on the internet and made them close their sites, reportedly shutting down hundreds of them.
At it’s peak, James Eddys’ AmwayFacts.com website was getting some 1500 visitors a day. In May 1999, despite the site not being used in anyway for recruiting, Amway made him shut it down. Not long after, for personal reasons unrelated to Amway, my own site too disappeared.
Amway had left the internet to the critics.
Over the years other sites came and went. Anyone with a negative experience could say what they want, virtually with impunity, whereas supporters of Amway, who for obvious reasons where much more likely to remain as IBOs, were effectively gagged. The corp made a few half-hearted attempts to post “positive” stories on the internet, such as amwaypages.com (archive), but with the merging of Amway North America into Quixtar these too faded into oblivion.
Quixtar was supposed to make things different.
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Located deep down in the more primitive regions of our brain is a small almond shaped structure known as the amygdala. The amygdala is part of the limbic system and is deeply tied to our emotional responses to situations.
What does this have to do with Amway and the internet?
Well, in the last few years psychologists and economists have been undertaking some fascinating research into the way we humans respond to decision-making situations. One of the findings is that when we encounter an “ambiguous” situation, one in which we really feel we don’t have enough information to make a safe decision, the amygdala is activated. The result – we feel fear.
In simple terms, whenever we need to make a decision, we are consciously and uncosciously weighing up the risks versus the potential rewards. If we feel we don’t know enough – fear kicks in, and we will tend to choose the path of less risk, if we can.
When you look into the past this makes sense. Imagine one of your distant ancestors coming to a fork in the road, he’s on the way to a village to meet a lady who is to become his wife. Both paths point to his destination, a village some distance away. Imagine one sign said “Ada, 5 miles”. The other said “Ada, 8 miles”.
The decision seems simple – take the shorter route. But as he is about to set off, a stranger walks past and says “Oh, I wouldn’t go that way, I’ve heard there’s a man eating lion down that path!”
Suddenly there’s risk involved. Does he take the shorter route and save some time, but perhaps be eaten? Or should he be cautious and take the longer path? On the other hand, perhaps the lion isn’t hungry? Perhaps he’s not there at all and the stranger is lying to him for some reason? Maybe the lion left? Really, what are the chances of being eaten?
Let’s look at the possible consequences of the decision. One is that your ancestor takes the shorter path and reaches Ada with no problems. Alternatively he takes the longer path and he also reaches Ada with no problems. He lives happily ever after and has a big family, eventually leading to you. All he lost was a little time.
A third option is that he decides to take the shorter path, despite the risk. Unfortunately, there is a lion, and the lion is hungry. Your ancestor gets eaten. He doesn’t live happily ever after and he doesn’t have a big family, and indeed …. you’re not around to read this!
The risk of death far outweighs the reward of saving a few hours.
Now imagine this and similar decision making situations occuring thousands or tens of thousands of times with thousands or tends of thousands of people. If there was a gene for “caution”, then slowly but surely more and more people would have the gene that says “listen to the guy who says there is lions”. The gene that says “go for it!” would slowly become less and less common, being digested in the stomach of a contented lion.
Our human past has programmed most of us to be naturally cautious.
So what happens when someone shows us the Amway business? Well, some people still have the “go for it” gene, but most folk tend to be a little cautious. They don’t have much information. They’re not sure if the rewards are real, or what the risks truly are. It’s an ambiguous situation. The amygdala kicks in and they get that gnawing “buyer beware”, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” feeling.
This is the natural response of most people we show the Amway business too. But most people aren’t stupid, they don’t want to miss a good thing if it’s true, so they try to fill in the “information gap” and see if they can better estimate the rewards and the risk.
In the past they’d go through materials the IBO introduced them to. Perhaps like a young Jim Janz once did, they’d call the BBB and the Consumer Affairs Department and find little cause for concern. Perhaps, also like Jim Janz, they’d ask their family, who warned him it was a gamble. Perhaps, like Jim Janz did, they’d even track down Rich DeVos himself on the phone, to get some evidence the whole thing was actually real!
You’d get more information, trying to weigh up the risks vs the rewards and making as educated, informed a decision as you could. If you felt the rewards outweighed the risk, then you’d give it a shot. If you thought the risk outweighed the rewards, you’d obviously decide “thanks …. but no thanks”.
This is one reason why “the dream” became an important focus in the Amway world. Amway distributors would show their prospects books like “Profiles of Success” or videos with big cars and large houses. This would make the “reward” seem bigger and bigger, the risk more and more worth it. Then they’d take their prospects to some kind of meeting, where people just like them would get up at the end and tell their story – “we did it, so can you!”. The rewards seem big, and the risk, well, it’s not so big after all is it?
All through this decision making process, the prospect is getting influenced by another interesting psychological mechanism – confirmation bias. This is a tendency we all have, when looking at new information, to interpret it in a way such that it will tend to confirm our existing preconceptions. What’s more, confirmation bias also leads us to ignore new information that contradicts that preconception.
You mother told you this, and she was right – first impressions matter.
Today of course, prospects still start off with some first impression, developed by how an IBO approached them and explained the business, or how the first person they spoke to about it reacted. And many, perhaps most, still start off with the amygdala firing, triggering concern, even fear, trying to weigh up the risks and rewards.
Today, the prospect might still ask their friends and family for their opinions, they may even call the BBB or even ring Amway itself. But today, we have a much more readibly available source of information, and it’s where many people go first.
It’s the topic for an upcoming post: Amway and the Internet – A History, Part I