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How to Manage Expectations with Your Blog Readers

Yesterday I watched this mini disaster unfold before me between a couple exchanging Christmas gifts.

Unmet-Expectations

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!

Expectations-Met

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!

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Great post as always Darren! I have recently launched my first blog and one of my worries is that I have over promised readers, by saying that I will be posting atleast 4 times a week. Which I am guessing as a blogger may be easier said then done! But definetely going to give it my best shot : )
    http://www.studentspayless.com

  2. Melvin says:

    Its interesting how you were able to relate that one thing that you witnessed in the cafe in your post today. Like you, me being impulsive is tough because its not really that I realize I was hurting my audience quickly. Being experimental is fun but I guess only up to the certain point when no one notices your blog.

  3. Be honest, open, and up front with your readers. Tell them what to expect, post your archives so they can look through them, let them see what you’re doing and what you’ve got planned…

    Of course, the most important advice is: be consistent. Readers self-regulate — if you post twice per week and readers don’t like it, they’ll drop off. If you post twice per week and one week decide to post 15 times — you’re going to get drop off from readers who think that is the new “normal.” So be consistent. Make a promise and deliver on it.

  4. Darni says:

    Well,compare to John Chow,you promote too little.:)

  5. George says:

    Great story. I think communicating our expectations is really important. Many people think that their expectations are clear to the other person (or to their blog readers). But if we don’t explicitly state our expectations, the other people often won’t know what they are.

    Also, under-promising and over-delivery is a great approach to business. Definitely a good point to keep in mind

  6. Matt Seymour says:

    One of the biggest issues i think bloggers face is setting there goals to high, compaired to their commitment to the blog. It means you get posts stating:
    - Next week I will be doing xyz,

    They fail to do there homework and dont deliver.

    I am happy to say I am 100% happy with problogger.net though :-)

  7. chris says:

    Ah yes, I remember a similar instance. I gave her an emerald necklace and she gave me a watch. I could tell I overdid it. :(

    As it relates to expectations, I find posting frequency can be the key. When I’ve dropped back to one post a week (hey, it’s my blog, right?) then my readership drops and I have to work to get them back.

    Stephen King said “amateurs write when they are inspired.” I’ve fallen into that trap and have found a way out…

    1. When the inspiration hits me, I write as much as possible. Then, I can either post up the saved articles when I want or I use the CMS’s scheduler to post them up for me.

    2. Pick a topic and a deadline. This has the potential to take out the “fun” that comes with inspiration but I have found that after writing “uninspired” for a few minutes, the inspiration comes out and I’m enjoying it.

  8. I have not been fortunate enough yet to get those nasty emails. Mostly because my blog is only in it’s third week of existence.

    I really think if the blogger just makes it clear enough for a child to understand what they are trying to convey with their blog, it would eliminate most complaints.

    One thing I know for sure is nobody can please everybody all the time. There will always be a critic. And that’s good because that’s what keeps us on our toes and honest.

  9. ashok says:

    Really I am getting usefull tips from u ,it’s very helpfull to me as a beginner.

  10. Back in a days when I started, I was giving away ebooks manually (lol), by sending in e-mail as an attachment.

    Of course, I sent the wrong ebook right to the first person who asked me to send.

    I think I lost that person, he/she will hardly ever come back to my blog :)

  11. In the example for (3) I like your solution. A parallel approach many businesses take is to have an email auto-response that goes out immediately that points to the site FAQ, and explains that the input will be considered as time allows, but the Reader perhaps can find the info they are inquiring about on the site (or similar).

    The corollary to (3) is listen to why your customer is unhappy, and learn from the inputs. Sometimes they are having an issue that if you fixed it your audience would expand by the number of people who also had the same issue but choose to leave rather than pursue a fix. Or their inputs may suggest a new product or adjacent market that you should offer.

    Finally, not all customers are great customers to have. As I like to joke, a customer is someone who BUYS something. A good Reader / Community member is someone who participates in a positive way in the Site Community. Sometimes it is good to recognize people who would be happier with a different service provider, and facilitate their transition. With a Blog once you are clear on the focus of the blog and discussion, if a Reader/Commenter’s viewpoint is clearly anathema to your community, keeping them as a Reader/Commenter may not be a good thing.

  12. Well such expectations come for only blogs which get a lot of traffic, but it doesn’t matter for those blogs which hardly get around 30 visitors a day, but yes once i did have some vsitors to my site who used to come everyday to see if i have posted something, but they came at the wrong, which was during my exams, so they stopped coming just before i started to post on my blog again. High expectations are actually good, you see when Ask was started the founders sent a press release boasting that it is the best search engine and can very soon go past Google, but after people started to use it, there was great disappointment as it failed to provide the quality searches, but when a new CEO tookover to create a new page rank system, he was shocked to see over 15 million visitors a day still coming to the site, you see the users had high expectations and no matter how long it would take, they were ready to meet those expectations.
    http://www.dumblittleblogger.blogspot.com/

  13. Crystal says:

    I’m all about under promising and over delivering! In one of my blogs I started an extensive tutorial that I never really got to finish. All a lot of hype up front, but I either should have made it before hand or not made it at all, because I had my readers waiting way too long for each new part to come out! (I now handle series differently!)

  14. There were too many great points in your blog. I don’t know why, but I find myself printing out your posts and putting them into a binder as they’re all amazing.

    The story about the couple, that’s funny!! My kind of girl :) way to make me read the entire post before revealing the punch line

  15. scheng1 says:

    It’s impossible to please everyone. What is needed is be consistent and persistent. The only way a blog fails all the readers is when the blogger stops posting completely.

  16. I’ve been blogging for a long time, and had to learn every one of those lessons on my own. I’ve had so much going on in the creative/ideas aspect, it’s not always been easy to maintain focus and settle down to plan.

    But it’s something that must be done, because effective communication is I think, really the goal for everybody.

  17. Eric says:

    Great post, Darren.

    Having a goal set out for your blog will definitely help when the time comes to figuring out what you want to deliver to your readers. It helps because when you have an expectation and listen to your readers and figure out what they want and then give them that and let them know what’s going on it makes everything just a little bit better.

    Your expectation for yourself and what your readers want combined is a beautiful thing when mixed together well.

  18. jaime says:

    This is a great post. I often feel like I’m not meeting reader expectations, but then I find that one contradicts another. You can’t please everyone, so the adage goes… Sometimes not trying to please too hard, and just doing what is in your heart is best.

  19. Dear Darren:

    Very timely reminder of managing expectations. So it happens that something unexpected came up and I was not able to post a weekly update or a Monday post.

    I was bit baffled of what to do, because I set expectations for myself and others in my blog’s about page that I would post weekly updates and Monday, Wednesday and Friday posts.

    I felt bad, but I guess I am the one to blame for not having couple of extra posts laying around handy for emergency times, I guess the lesson is well learned – never leave things for chance and be ready for the unexpected.

    Thanks Daren!

    Best,
    Tomas

  20. So, the key is communication. Always communicate each change or something new product with readers if possible. I think that why we have beta version for some product.

  21. Funny anecdote about the couple exchanging gifts. Definitely my kind of woman.

  22. vjack says:

    Excellent timing on this one, as I just received such a complaint moments ago and am trying to figure out how to respond. I think I will start writing a FAQ now.

  23. Mainak Jas says:

    Wonderful post! You have listed down some of the problems that one faces during blogging. I have heard such complaints myself from my readers – some say that the post was awesome and some say there was nothing in the post. I think it is because of the hiatus between the blogger and the reader.

    I think I am not very well equipped to identify and address the hiatus. Thanks a lot!

  24. Static says:

    I really like the “Under Promise” and “Over Deliver” concept. I think this applies to not just blogging but life in general. I’m currently in the middle of an application for something (again, I won’t say) and probably will tell about it later. However, I don’t want to get across as someone who will certainly get through the application as such processes are never guaranteed. Please do wish me all the luck as this is an important application/decision in my life, but I would rather not exaggerate on it until the decisions come out.

    Thanks for reminding me about this again Darren. Always overachieve!

  25. Michael says:

    The “double meaning” comment also tells a story about Twitter (and any service that tosses your comments out to the world at large): be prepared for people who aren’t your “target market” to take your stuff and run with it…in entirely the wrong direction.

  26. mealdy says:

    wow, it’s great! i’ve to admit that i’ll never catch you yet it’s full of joy to begin from a kid blogger:) hoping you gays bless me, for i just launched an english blog, but i post too little! blogging in another language couldn’t be harder!

  27. mealdy says:

    wow, it’s great! i’ve to admit that i’ll never catch you yet it’s full of joy to begin from a kid blogger:) hoping you guys bless me, for i just launched an english blog, but i post too little! blogging in another language couldn’t be harder!

  28. Chris Monty says:

    I agree that consistency is the most important thing. Underpromising and overdelivering are well and good, of course, but with consistency, your readership will remain steady and loyal.

  29. I f you are running a group blog and your readers expect new content daily from it, I’d recommend using a schedule so that you have contributors down for posts a week in advance. This helps to insure you meet reader expectation for daily content. http://www.thebloggersbulletin.com

  30. Maven says:

    Don’t hype is good advice. I have done that a few times – promised something and then got too busy in my day to day life to deliver. Now I try not to promise anything :-)

    Merry Christmas from a *mostly* silent reader.

    Your blog is very appreciated.

  31. I find it’s a battle between consistency and creativity. Having settled on the theme of my new blog, I find myself wanting to write about other topics too. If they can be tweaked, they’ll go up as posts, if they can’t, I’ll save them in a file for another day and perhaps another blog.

  32. Nick says:

    Great post Darren. When I’ve launched my first blog I promised to my readers, that I will be posting at least 3 times a week, but I did not have much time and I launched one post a week. Now, I have more time, I’m writing at least 1 time a day on my two sites.

  33. Justine says:

    Great post, extremely helpful. I am only posting to say it was hard to concentrate on reading your helpful tips because all I kept thinking was why on earth is this couple exchanging such nice gifts out in public at a cafe haha…

  34. In my 2 1/2 years as a blogger, I have found that my best tools for managing reader expectations are: 1.) Be transparent, 2.) Listen and 3.) Ask questions.

    1.) Be Transparent. In my experience I have found that my readers have been okay about weathering changes to my blog if they know about it in advance. For example, at one point, I used to post on a daily basis. After about 6 months of this, I found this posting schedule too intense. Through my blog I share my passion for card making and scrapbooking, and I generate revenue by selling digital products that I develop & then sell through my blog. There is a LOT of “behind the scenes” work that takes place – it was challenging to fit it all in, and I was getting burnt out. I was frank with my readers and told them that I needed to take time for me, my family and the other aspects of my business, so I would be decreasing my posting frequency to 5 days a week. They were very understanding and receptive. I’ve followed the same philosophy every time I know something is going to lead to a change in my blog.

    2.) Listen – Sometimes you have to read between the lines to know what your readers are thinking. For example, if I post a particular project that generates more feedback than usual, this tells me that this is a particular area of interest to my readers and I make every effort to integrate more of it into my posts.

    3.) Ask questions – In my blog posts I’ll periodically ask my readers for feedback on what they think of something I’ve implemented on my blog. For example, as I mentioned above my blog is on cardmaking and scrapbooking. Whenever I would share a project I had made I would include step-by-step directions on how to make the project. This past fall I introduced video tutorials on my blog. After about a month I asked my readers whether they still wanted/needed the written directions for the projects that had videos. My readership was fairly evenly split – there were those that were fine with just the video, whereas the other half wanted both. Had it been left up to me, I probably would have discontinued the written directions because it was more work. After reading about WHY it was so important to many of my readers, I opted to continue, thus ensuring that I didn’t disappoing a significant proportion of my readership.

    Andrea Walford
    http://www.andreawalford.com

  35. Wow, I am so flattered to read this blog post. I am actually making a New Year’s resolution to post more often to my blog. In fact, I get ideas all the time and you have just given me one here. Yes, things have been busy, but I’ll tell you, ALL of your observations on the marketing aspects of blogging are “spot on”.

  36. turisuna says:

    Thanks Darren, guessing the reader’s expectation is not easy, I never give any promise to my readers, I usually try to post at least 3 times in a week, but sometimes there are readers who want me to post more often. I have explained that I should divide my time with my offline job, but still there are some people who don’t feel satisfied. Well … I can’t meet all the expectations, I just try to be better, I hope my readers will enjoy it.

  37. Great opener to your post Darren. A similar thing happened to me a few years ago. She got jewelry and I got a cheeseburger, but there wasn’t a happy ending.

    You really hit home about the part of makin too big of a promise and then not being able to deliver. I think that we are now in the era of over-delivery and if you don’t jump on that bandwagon, your customers will go elsewhere, so it’s critical to improve the “under-promising” part of the equation in order to be able to over-deliver all the time.

  38. I really found this posting useful, Darren. It reminds me to stay focused on my blog and to keep thinking of my readers.

  39. Great story. I think communicating our expectations is really important.

  40. earnword says:

    don’t hype. i agree with that.

  41. When I was building my website of the web tycoon , I began by puting a list with all the subjects I was going to talk about, It Was in May, and I still have a 30% of my website that needs to be completed (the part of investment through internet).

  42. Gaminglad says:

    Thanks for this post man. Im starting out but hope to reach that level one day!

  43. Emily Geizer says:

    Such a funny story! Managing expectations is a fantastic skill in blogging, as well as life in general.

    My 5-yr-old had her first meaningful introduction to this over the holidays. She was so disappointed by her gifts (all of which she had asked for) and is now returning them – My Daughter Hated Her Gifts!

    Managing expectations is so important, yet the discipline required is out-of-reach at times for me.

    Thanks for the reminder, Darren.

  44. So, the key is communication. Always communicate each change or something new product with readers if possible. I think that why we have beta version for some product…

  45. Christian Louboutin says:

    So, the key is communication. Always communicate each change or something new product with readers if possible. I think that why we have beta version for some product…