Have you ever received extremely candid feedback? You know, the type of insights and comments you would never normally see/hear? I don't know if the general public knows this, but people who are asked to speak at an event are sometimes given the information provided on the feedback forms by the participants. As you can well imagine, the real intended purpose is to help the organizers understand what worked (and what didn't), but conference organizers are happy to share what their audience thought of your presentation. I often get the feedback forms from events, and really dig deep into what was said. On one hand, they are an amazing array of information that help me tweak and refine my presentation. I take them seriously, and I consider getting access to them a privilege. On the other hand, it's an amazing glance into the human condition. There's always the one (or two) people that you can never impress.
That's Social Media too, and you need to be prepared for it.
In episode #99 of Six Pixels of Separation - The Twist Image Podcast, Brett Hurt from Bazaarvoice said that the average consumer review is a 4.5-plus out of five. This runs counter-intuitive to what you might suspect - that only the people who don't like your product/service will review it. Clearly, this is not the case. What's we're seeing is that people who love your product are much more inclined to let other people know.
There's hope for humanity, yet.
Social Media is like that feedback form, only everything is public. Everything is open for everyone to see, comment, tag, share and pass along. The kooks and haters have the same volume of voice as the lovers and brand evangelists. Plus, everything that's recorded lies as a permanent record in The Long Tail that is a search result. It's hard to make heads or tails of who the detractors are and, for the general public, there's also little indication if the negative is a legitimate source or just someone with a bone to pick.
While I would hope that most companies could embrace this type of open forum and conversation, there are some who, simply, don't have the thick skin or bandwidth to handle and respond to everything that comes in. Ignoring what people are saying about you online is not an option either anymore, because the search results that are returned to users who are looking for your goods and services will be tainted with everything but your own perspective.
In the end, Social Media may not be for you, but you really can't afford to ignore it. It's quite possible that the one person out of one hundred with something negative to say will detract from the five-star-plus rating you are getting from the majority, but that, too, is not a reason to dismiss it. We are getting to the point in time where Marketers have to suck it up, set up some Google News Alerts and a Technorati watchlist to hear these voices.
Whether they like it or not.