Thanks to a pointer by Adam Thierer over at Technology Liberation Front yesterday, I was alerted to a post that entrepreneur billionaire Mark Cuban put up over the weekend that tackled the dilemma many brands and online actives often face from time to time – negative things being said about them.
Mark Cuban went into a fair amount of detail as to why you shouldn’t sweat it when negative things are said about you, and put a term on it: fragmentation. Essentially, he argues, you don’t need to worry because no one (or a statistically insignificant number of people) will ever going to read it:
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.
Adam Thierer takes the conclusion Cuban reaches and nerds it up a bit for us by tying it to the concept known as “power laws.”
This is an important insight and, in a roundabout way, Cuban is basically reminding us that “power laws” govern all media, especially online media. Power laws, which are also sometimes always referred to as the “80-20″ principle or the “Pareto principle,” refers to an uneven distribution of outcomes in which a small percentage of inputs or causes result in a very large percentage of outputs or effects. This is where Chris Anderson got his famous “Long Tail” theory.
Thierer does some to mitigate the point down a bit from Cuban’s absolutist stance, but I’d like to take it a little further.
As Thierer says later in the piece, “news is a truly social phenomenon.” People will share something that appeals to them within their social groups, and this is evidenced by the myriad of startups that exist within our Web 2.0 ecosystem purely devoted to sharing other people’s written work, often with little to no editorialization by the sharer.
Beyond that, though, while an amateur blogger may have only a few readers and no noticeable traffic to speak of, the folks that eventually do end up reading a negative story about you that that this hypothetical blogger has written will be exactly the wrong people you’d like to have reading it.
How Bad Customer Service Can Ruin You
There are two examples of this that immediately spring to mind. One such example came as a direct result of a run-in I had with a former landlord a number of years ago. I had the unfortunate opportunity to be subject to an East Texas despot masquerading as a property manager who one day had it in his head to start an altercation with my wife while she was nine months pregnant a couple years ago. Needless to say, I was a little irked.
After my aggressive negotiations with the man subsequent to the altercation only lead to what can charitably be described as extreme disdain for one another on both sides of the table. True to form of the stereotypical ego-centric blogger, I wrote about it on my personal domain and took special care to make sure my post detailing his altercation with my wife SEO’ed higher than the website he used to rent out apartments did.
The net result was that in just under a year’s time, his ability to rent out to new tenants was so severely damaged that he had to sell the bulk of the properties he owned due to low occupancy. The traffic to those pages on my blog was insignificant compared to the rest of my readership, let alone the rest of the web. None the less, because my site was the first to pop up when you searched for real estate in East Texas as well as his company’s name, his reputation suffered greatly.
How One Dedicated Detractor Can Have Unknown Consequences
I recently blogged at my personal site a response to an editorial by a fellow named Seth Finkelstein. He is a brilliant tech writer that I just as often agree with as disagree with.
Given his very opinionated editorial and my lack of familiarity with the man, I took the time as I was writing my response to delve into exactly who this fellow was and where these strong opinions came from. Doing a simple Google search for him turned up some very interesting results.
I won’t link to them again here, because after I spent several hours down the rabbit hole trying to figure out the truth of the story, it appeared that while there were some very serious and somewhat credible claims against Finkelstein, the bottom line was that it was really a case of he-said, she-said.
The bottom line is that what began as a simple editorial response to someone, after a couple quick clicks, turned into a situation where Finkelstein’s entire credibility as a sane person, let alone a competent commentator was called into question.
As Seth put it in an email conversation: “Sadly […] I’ll likely never know if they’ve cost me a job or a friendship because of such effects.”
After that email conversation with Seth, I was ultimately convinced that his side had more credibility, but the fact that he must intercede personally with everyone to convince them of his innocence in the matter goes to prove how even in this age of media over-saturation, even the smallest of publishers has a very loud and effective voice.