marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wisdom or Wisecracking of Crowds

I was following up on a report on KNTV where they discussed lawsuits against users who gave bad reviews when I ran into a thread from a reporter on yelp.

The reporter request was ligit, and I even saw the televised broadcast of the special report. The topic seemed important, as any commenter on Yelp or Facebook could be subject to a lawsuit for libel and slander. Worse yet, precedent could be set by any firm able to sway a jury to their way of thinking about online commenting. If anyone on the forum/comment list could be targeted, wouldn’t it be in their best interests to help the reporter?

The problem, it seems to me, was authenticity, familiarity, and reputation. Without any of those three, the reporter didn’t stand a chance of getting the breadth and depth of responses she deserved. The reporter, Vicky Nguyen from KNTV in the SF Bay Area, has a profile on the TV station site here, but even so, that did not help her. Let’s look at some errors that hurt her trust, reputation, and authenticity factors in getting the responses she was requesting.

Authenticity: The reporter made an honest appeal for feedback and introduced herself. She stated that she was a reporter looking for feedback on a story. Her appeal seemed transparent and open, but there was a problem with her appeal. The reporter chose a screen name that I cringed at immediately “KeepItReal I”. I’ll simply say that the name sounds like someone is trying too hard, but in the interests of brevity, I’ll stop there.

Familiarity: While the reporter did not commit the complete noob error of FPHR (First post help request), she did not have a long enough history of participation on the site or engagement with other users that people could trust that username was not a joke. Sometimes trust can be gained just by familiarity, but there is little you can do to remedy a new, young, or lightly engaged account.

Reputation: Closely tied to Familiarity, Reputation frames how users act with you or toward you. As the sum total of your experiences with the site, your reputation helps others categorize you as a lurker, commenter, value-adder, conversationalist, influencer, leader, troll, or even spammer. If the reporter’s reputation was one of influencer or leader, she may have received the feedback she needed. Without the right reputation and a history of belonging, it’s much easier to dismiss comments by a typical lurker as those of a troll or spammer.

Due to the the above factors, it was unlikely that the “wisdom of the crowds” would play out, and, in fact, the reverse happened. The online responders made innuendos, jokes, and otherwise ignored the ligitimate request for help from the reporter. The response amounted to nothing more than the wise-cracking of the crowds, which may be the expected response for attempting leverage unfamiliar communities.