Yesterday I watched this mini disaster unfold before me between a couple exchanging Christmas gifts.
As I watched the repercussions of the exchange of gifts (I’ll tell you what happened below) I found myself thinking about unmet expectations.
Elliot Larson once said – “Anger always comes from frustrated expectations” – as a blogger interacting with readers for 7 years I’d have to say that I agree.
As I think back over the times where I’ve had readers most frustrated and angry with me (and when I’ve been most frustrated with others) – it almost always comes down to there being a difference in expectations between blogger and reader.
Most bloggers who’ve been at this game for a while have had at least a handful of complaint emails/comments from readers:
“You post too often!”
“You don’t post enough!”
“Your posts are too advanced!”
“Your posts are too basic!”
“You do too many promotions!”
“You promised XXX but you never delivered on it!”
“You never replied to my email!”
Sometimes the complaints are legitimate and other times as bloggers we write them off as the reader just not getting us or asking too much.
Whether justifiable or not – in each of the cases above the person making the complaint had some kind of unmet expectation. They signed up for an RSS feed, newsletter, Twitter account or bought a product expecting one thing but getting another.
As bloggers – how do we manage expectations better and minimise these kinds of complaints?
A few thoughts come to mind:
1. Know what your own Goals and Expectations are
As I look back on some of the instances that I’ve had with readers having unmet expectations of me I can honestly say that in some instances the reason was simply that I didn’t have a very clear understanding of what I was trying to do or achieve.
I’m sure many bloggers are similar – we can be an impulsive lot – experimenting, tweaking, changing directions and starting new things at the drop of the hat. While this often leads to great discoveries and creative new directions – it can also leave readers reeling a little and feeling disappointed.
I’m still quite impulsive – but over the years I’ve learned a little more to take my time with new ideas, to test them with small groups of people before launching them publicly and to force myself to plan and think about over arching goals and objectives in order to make the road a little less bumpy for readers.
2. Communicate Your Expectations Clearly
Once you know what your readers will get from you and your blog – communicate it clearly to your readers.
For example – if you have a newsletter and intend to publish it weekly – state that in your subscriber page. If the newsletter is simply an update of what’s happening on your blog – let them know that so they don’t expect completely new content.
If there are strings attached with any aspect of your blog – it can be well worthwhile letting your readers know about them up front.
This particularly applies when you change any aspect of your own expectations or goals.
For example if you’ve been happily posting at a frequency of 4 posts a week but suddenly decide to start publishing at a rate of 10 posts a day – you’ll want to communicate your decision and reasoning to readers. Changes in your own approach might make sense to you but if you have readers who signed up for something completely different you’re setting yourself up for a clash of expectations.
I’ve seen this problem on numerous occasions including about post frequency, changes in topic/niche of a blog and even changes in the way that a blog is monetized (suddenly adding lots of ads, or paid posts, or affiliate promotions).
3. Identify Common Unmet Expectations and Preempt Them
Over time you might find that you constantly get the same complaint from readers. This could be an indication that you need to consider changing your approach – OR it could simply mean you need to work harder to get the reader’s expectations right earlier.
For example I worked with one blogger a few months back who kept getting nasty emails from readers complaining that the blogger didn’t respond to emails quickly enough. The blogger was inundated with emails and found it hard to answer everyone (and it could take a week or more to do so when he did get to it). He was frustrated that readers expected too much and readers were frustrated because they expected more of him.
We added a simple sentence or two to his contact page explaining that the blogger received 100+ emails a day and was not able to respond to everyone. We also added alternative places that people could interact with him (on Twitter) and also added a FAQ section to his blog and linked to it from the contact form to help readers find answers to some of the more common emails requests that he received.
The complaints he received by readers dropped dramatically.
4. Don’t Hype
Many unmet expectations are just simple and understandable misunderstandings between blogger and reader – however at times bloggers could be a little more at fault by falling into the trap of hyping themselves, their blogs and their products up to a point where they’re setting themselves and their readers up for a clash of expectations.
I know this temptation – you slave over what you do, you want it to succeed and you stretch the truth just a little in some of your claims or promise things you probably can’t deliver on in order to convince potential readers that you’re worthy of their readership.
The problem is obvious though – you simply can’t do what you say you’ll do and as a result you end up with a disappointed (at best) or an angry and aggressive (at worst) reader. At the more aggressive end of the spectrum you might also have the reader tell others about how you’ve let them down.
5. Under Promise and Over Deliver
There’s nothing wrong with big promises and claims – IF you deliver on them. However if you’re not sure if you’ll be able to deliver on an element of what you’re tempted to promise – leave it out and add it later.
For example when we launched ProBlogger.com I always wanted to add a featured content area where I would produce extra and exclusive content for paid members. However at the time of launch I didn’t yet have the time allocated in my weekly schedule to be able to commit to delivering regular extra content.
It wasn’t until recently that I was able to do this and I’ve since added the area to the community. The reaction of adding it later was that readers are thanking me for the bonus – something extra to what they signed up for expecting. Perhaps we could have signed up more people earlier by promising this area earlier – but I’d rather a smaller number of happy members than a larger number of angry ones!
What Would You Add?
By no means am I perfect in this area. I still get readers telling me that I’ve not delivered upon what they were expecting from me – I’ve still got work to do. As a result I’d love to hear from you on how you manage reader expectations in comments below?
PS: I promised that I’d tell you how the gift exchange that I witnessed above turned out. Here’s what happened about half an hour later!
It’s not quite an ‘under promise and over deliver’ situation – but both went away happy with a story to tell!
PS: just been told by people on Twitter that ‘pearl necklace’ might have a double meaning. It was not my intention to be funny or offensive with this, it’s really what the gift was!