There’s So Much Happening Online That We Never See

There’s a lot of interesting points made in this story about how an author of a young adult book was dragged and trolled before her book was even published. But one point particularly jumped out at me:

Among the book-buying public, though, that parade may be mostly passing unnoticed. The scandals that loom so large on Twitter don’t necessarily interest consumers; instead, the tempest of these controversies remains confined to a handful of internet teapots where a few angry voices can seem thunderously loud. Still, some publishing professionals imagine that the outrage will eventually become powerful enough to rattle the industry.

I had zero idea there was some earth-shattering controversy over an upcoming book. But that’s because it was happening in a portion of Twitter that apparently has little to no overlapping territory with my own.

It’s a reminder that the internet is a vast place, much bigger than the tiny slice any of us experience on a regular basis. Social networks are self-selecting, as are RSS feeds. Sites like Digg and reddit are great for opening yourself up to new sources and perspectives, as are curated email newsletters. Even then, though, you can’t see everything and stories like this will come out of the blue because attention and time are finite resources.

This is just the kind of thing that keeps marketing professionals, particularly those who are responsible for social media programs, awake at night. There are plenty of times in my career where I’ve done everything I can think of to set up monitoring inputs that will let me know as soon as possible if a crisis should break out, only to find that the fire breaks out in a completely unexpected quarter.

These self-selected networks can seem especially insular during times of crisis. I follow a lot of people who are part of what can generally be called “Media Twitter” and so see lots of conversations about not just the news of the day but also the meta-media analysis of that news. So it’s not just that a CNN commentator was let go for sharing a Nazi salute on Twitter but also the ethics of employing someone who could do such a thing and what it means for the rest of CNN’s lineup of talking heads. And it’s about the reaction of others to that move.

But that conversation is completely invisible to, I’ll wager, most of Twitter’s user base. It’s the most important thing in the world to a few hundred people and the rest are completely unaware it’s going on.

It’s all about perspective. When we get caught up in the issues that seem so urgent, so crucial, so fraught with meaning to us we often forget that many people would wonder why we would ever care about such a thing. Those issues only appear world-shaking because we’ve defined our world in that way.

By Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.