Mark Cuban writes a piece on his blog about friends of his who are increasingly upset by negative reactions they get on the web. Specifically those that come from Blogs, Tweets and other social media. Mr. Cuban's conclusion is that most things written on the web don't get read by a lot of people so they can safely be ignored. He says...
I tried to explain to them that the “amateur outties” really had no impact on 99.99pct of the population. That because its on the net, even if a newspaper puts it on their site, doesn’t mean more than 100 people had seen it or cared about what they read. I had to repeat to them over and over, that even if something is tweeted and retweeted. If its published on 200 blogs. If its on some newspaper sites, it probably has no impact.
How could that be ? The first step was to click through from tweets to the home pages of the tweeters and show them that most had under 20 followers and then show them that it looked like some of the followers linked back to accounts that looked like they were set up by the same person. In otherwords they were following and retweeting themselves to make it look like they were important. The same held true with blogs. I would use some different webstats sites to show they werent in the top several hundred thousand websites and to notice that there were zero comments on the blog and no original sites linked to the blog. Then there were the newspaper sites. I couldnt show them the specific amount of traffic for a given article, but I could show the lack of a single comment . That for any articles for which there was probably more than a couple hundred readers , there would be at least a single comment. If the ”amateur outties” didnt know or care about your issue, then the innies/the rest of the world, didnt either.
He then concludes with...
The moral of the story is that on the internet, volume is not engagement . Traffic is not reach. When you see things written about a person, place or thing you care about, whether its positive or negative, take a very deep breath before thinking that the story means anything to anyone but you.
I think he's right about the reach of most writing on the Internet. In fact, I'd go a step further. I find that even people who have thousands of followers often don't get much of their material read. If you've been around blogs for any period of time you'll often see comments where the person writing the comment clearly hasn't read past the post's first paragraph. So even when your work gets a lot of comments it isn't a guarantee that those people are actually reading what you wrote.
But that doesn't tell the whole story.
What Mr. Cuban misses is this: People who do write comments/blog posts/tweets/etc... represent a certain segment of the population. So even if their work isn't read the conclusion they came to is based on a thought process that many people share. Which means even if that person doesn't convince anyone with their writing there could still be thousands who agree with their sentiment.
But here's the important part. All this chatter is a hugely positive thing.
Celebrities and businesses might have been more comfortable before the advent of Social Media but they were living in a fool's paradise. Because all the complaints they read on the web now have always existed. There was just no way for the public to share them in a way that could be heard by those they were upset with. Now that those people can hear the public it allows them to take steps to correct the problem. That's huge.
So I would give the exact opposite advice to people upset by what is being said about them on the web. I'd say they should take it to heart and either fix what's making people unhappy or try to explain why it is that they can't fix it. Because while there will always be unreasonable people out there I find that most of the general public will forgive something that they are displeased with if they know there's a good reason for that something to exist.
Addendum: Tom Foremski of siliconvalleywatcher.com addresses the Cuban post and how it relates to the so-called "Real Time Web." He says...
I made a point that there might not be much value in the monitoring of real-time online conversations about brands because if those conversations take place in real-time, they are done and dusted by the time a corporation decides to become involved. I asked how many people review their real-time streams of content on Facebook or Twitter? Which means if something nasty was said the likelihood is that very few people saw it -- only those that happened to be looking at their streams at that particular time would have seen it.
I disagree with him here but it's an important part of the overall discussion and I'm glad he brought it up. My problem with his take on the issue is that real time conversations aren't "done and dusted" when they are finished. In the land of Google these conversations linger out there forever and (to bring this back to my post's point) just wait for like minded consumers to find them. That's why addressing issues brought up in Social Media is important to companies. When people are angry they seek out like minded individuals so if companies address the original angry person all the angry people who follow will stumble upon the companies explanation while looking for others who complained. That's exactly what companies should want.