As more companies and brands monitor and participate in community dialogues, they need to be aware of the “Vocal Minority” issue.

Almost every community has its critics (and by critics, I mean those pains in the asses who only like to whine and be contrarian purely for the sake of being contrarian).  The problem is that sometimes, those critics can be mistakenly taken as representing the opinions of the masses.  There is also the handful of loud mouths that misrepresent themselves as the mouthpiece of the group.  For example, I have had clients who have monitored community feedback and reported that “everyone” wanted a certain product.  They were shocked when they produced it and very few customers bought it.  The reason- “everyone” didn’t actually want it- just the same small group that wanted it mentioned it over and over again!

Before you oil the squeaky wheel, here are some things to keep in mind about the Vocal Minority- community members who have big mouths, but don’t actually represent the sentiments of the group.

-Just because they are loud and they are consistent doesn’t mean that they represent the feelings of your wider base of fans;
-In fact, many of the folks who complain actually don’t have a lot of purchasing power;
-Many customers complain in forums more often than give praise; and
-In communities, the masses tend to ignore responding to the critics to save themselves headaches.

So, how do you know when your detractors represent the sentiments of a meaningful cross-section of your customers?

-Make sure you have a real problem- is there a problem that exists and does it exist in a meaningful way?
-Check for “minions”:  is the same group of people always complaining together?  If so, they may be just a group of trolls.  If you are seeing different customers complaining together, you are more likely to have a problem (unless that group is considered influential within your community);
-Reach out to other customers to get a broader scope of feedback; and
-Get your feedback through private surveys instead of public ones so that the community isn’t swayed by the Vocal Minority.

Being aware of the Vocal Minority is the first step to making sure you understand the broader interests of your community and customers.

Have you had an experience with the Vocal Minority in your community?  If so, please share below.