As more companies and brands monitor and participate in community dialogues, they need to be aware that the loudest consumers don’t always represent the majority.

Almost every company has its critics (and by critics, I mean those pains in the rear who only like to whine and be contrarian purely for the sake of it). These critics have been given an unprecedented platform on the web. Whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or even in the comments section of a blog, anyone can say anything at any time and with any frequency.

The problem for companies is that sometimes, those critics can be mistakenly taken as representing the opinions of the masses when they are really just a handful of loudmouths that misrepresent themselves, or are at least perceived as the mouthpiece of a larger subset of customers.

Related: 4 Ways to Show Customers You Are Listening to Them

For example, I have had clients who have monitored online feedback and reported that “everyone” wanted a certain product. They were shocked when they produced said product and very few customers bought it. The reason: “everyone” didn’t actually want the product. It was purely a small group that mentioned that they wanted it over and over again.

Before you oil the squeaky wheel, here are some things to keep in mind about the vocal minority -- those online customers, trolls and/or community members who have big mouths, but don’t actually represent the sentiments of the group.

  • Just because certain customers are “loud” and they are consistent in posting or sending you feedback, it doesn’t mean that they represent the feelings of your wider base of customers or fans.
  • In fact, many of the folks who complain actually don’t have a lot of purchasing power and some of them aren’t your customers at all.
  • Many customers complain in online forums and on social platforms more often than they give praise.
  • In communities, the masses tend to ignore responding to the critics to save themselves from headaches.

Related: 5 Cool Things You Can Do With Customer Feedback

So how do you know when your detractors represent the sentiments of a meaningful cross-section of your customers?

If you are getting posts about a problem, make sure that you have a real problem. If it doesn't exist, ignore it.

Check for “minions”: is the same group of people always complaining together? If so, they may be just a co-dependent group of trolls. If you are seeing different customers complaining around the same issue, you are more likely to have a problem (unless that group is considered influential among your customer base).

Reach out to other customers to get a broader scope of feedback. If you aren’t sure what your customers think, ask a meaningful number of them. Customers are more likely to give you feedback if it is asked for (and if they feel like offering it will ultimately benefit them).

Also, solicit your feedback through private surveys or polls instead of public ones, so that the community isn’t swayed by the vocal minority.

Being aware of the vocal minority is the first step to making sure that you understand the broader interests of your community and customers. Understanding them is a critical facet to growing your business.

Related: Does Your Assessment of Your Business's Value Match Up With Reality?