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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Mobsourcing and innovationIf you watch the news, you might assume you know what is really going on in the world. But what if 5% of the population accounts for 100% of the conversation?

From my experience, the vocal few speak loudly and their voices are the only ones we tend to hear.

We see this manifest in many different ways.

Look at Yelp, TripAdvisor or Amazon reviews. Are these true predictors of reality? To some degree they are. But they are certainly skewed to a large degree. People who are disgruntled are more likely to leave reviews than the average person. People who are more technology savvy will probably be more active with posting. And we know that there are a few “scammers” who post high quantities of false reviews to bump up their ratings.

When we listen to the news we typically hear from the outliers. For example, we might watch a report of a person who took a medicine and had an adverse reaction. It gets blown out of proportion by the media outlets. And all of a sudden there are mobs advocating the drug be removed from shelves. One incident leads to massive action. Or, an apparent one-off product defect leads to someone getting injured. Next thing you know, there is a massive product recall.

If you watch the news (which I stopped doing a while ago) you might be led to believe that the world is falling apart. Unfortunately, the vocal few (who typically are focused on something negative) drive what we see.

I could give you a LONG list of news items where this is true. Most are so emotionally charged that I don’t dare write about them because I would become the target of haters.

Let’s face it, this issue permeates society. Even our democratic process falls prey. Whenever there is a referendum, a small percentage of the people typically vote. Whose voice is heard? Usually it is not those in the middle of the bell curve; it’s the extremes: those strongly against/for. Polarization is often what drives our political process.

So how does this apply to your business? Although customer input is critical, assume that social media is not the answer. Most companies are on high alert these days due to the venting of customers on outlets such as Twitter and Facebook*. Or, even worse, there are websites created by dissatisfied customers: xyzsucks.com (substitute xyz with your company’s name). While it is great customer service to respond quickly and address specific problems, if you design your business around these posts assuming they are the norm, you will definitely be missing the mark.

Additionally, if you employ crowdsourcing methods to solicit customer feedback, keep the 5% rule in mind. Any such feedback will most likely be skewed. We call this mobsourcing. The vocal few will often circumvent the entire process.

Therefore, when gathering insights from crowds, make sure you use appropriate sampling techniques to identify true statistical trends. Or better yet, do ethnographic studies that enable you to observe your customers during their daily lives, giving you deeper insights into latent wants and needs that they aren’t even aware of.

Next time you watch the news, read a review, or gather feedback, be skeptical. Not all voices are equal. Avoid reacting to and greasing only the squeaky wheel.

Remember, when only 5% of the population speaks, it may appear that they are speaking for the other 95%, but most likely they aren’t.

* I did a quick experiment on Twitter. I posted kudos and complaints to Fedex, United, Delta, Air Canada, and Hampton (Inns). These were legitimate comments. Fedex, United, and Air Canada responded quickly. Delta and Hampton never did.

  1. Wow, this is a great concept and something I haven’t really thought about until I read this article. A lot of companies see one comment or online negativity as the “be all and end all” for their business! I have worked with some business owners who have taken their focus completely off of their vision because of one negative review on the google play store! Granted for a small start up business, it can be scary, yet it is good to remember your point, it is only the 5%! Thanks!

    • Thanks Raymond for chiming in! I fall prey to this issue too. When I read reviews after a speech, I tend to give a lot more credibility to the one bad review rather than focusing on the hundreds of awesome reviews.

  2. Too often people are looking for a freebie. They know that if they complain about a company they will likely get a handout. I know I’ve done it before.

    It’s a good lesson that we should all be more vocal; especially when a company does a good job. Little words of affirmation go a long way. Especially to the business owner who is working hard to provide a service.

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