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    Great expectations are set expectations

    By Justin Goldsborough | October 24, 2010

    Great Expectations

    Photo courtesy of iTunes

    I’ve been told I’m slightly passionate about sports. Heck, some people say I’m a bit nutty — those are the ones who’ve heard me yelling at the TV during games :) . So to say I was disappointed Saturday watching my Northwestern Wildcats blow a 17-point lead at home to undefeated Michigan St. would be an understatement.

    But once I got over the initial frustration and went from “how could that happen” to “maybe it will make them better” mode, I started thinking about what the expectations for this team really were this year. And it really did make me feel a little better. Northwestern is a younger team with a first-time starter at quarterback. Fans were told to expect some growing pains this year. Next year was supposed to be the chance for a special season. And we’re still 5-2, one game away from being bowl eligible for the third straight season, which has never been done before in school history.

    See, expectations are a funny thing. They don’t stop us from wanting the national championship each year, but they help us bring ourselves back to the bigger picture and see long-term goals. I bring this up because too many times lately I’m seeing or hearing about unrealistic expectations from companies that are in the beginning stages of using social media.

    Say it with me: Social media is NOT most effective when used as a short-term consumer acquisition tactic. eMarketer recently posted a study of US marketers from the Direct Marketing Association and COLLOQUY that made the following point — social media was seen as most effective in generating brand awareness and customer loyalty, while “customer acquisition through social media is less important.”

    Do your clients agree? Better question: Does your organizational approach coincide with this study? We as PR/Marketing pros have got to do a better job of setting expectations up front with our clients when using these tools. And I’m looking in the mirror first and foremost. This is something that will be at the top of my performance plan next year. Because when we don’t set expectations, our clients completely miss the point of social media and we often fall in step along with them because we’re, no surprise, trying to generate results for our clients.

    It’s natural to migrate to numbers when judging success. And it’s natural to think short-term. Organizations do it all the time. But when we put fans and followers numbers up in neon lights or allow conversations to be confused with coupons and Groupons, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors and we’re just making our jobs harder. This happens too often and I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons why we continue to see social media channels used almost solely to broadcast. Plus, just yesterday, Kris Colvin shared that the Express has paid to have it’s CMO’s account (@ExpressLisaG) promoted on Twitter to gain more follows. Who is advising these people? And why are so many of us still advocating number chasing?

    What we need to bring to the table is a more in-depth conversation about the expectations of today’s consumer, long-term goals and how not understanding the etiquette of social media can get you burned. We need more creative measurement — one of the best examples I heard at Blogworld was comparing listening to insurance and asking clients if they believe insurance is important. We also need to fight the online/offline WOM double standard.

    Nothing sucks worse than going to present results to a client and they turn to you and ask “Is that good?”And if the client has nothing to compare to other than its millions of impressions, it’s going to be an even worse conversation. It’s easy to get in a hurry, to forget not everyone lives and breathes Twitter, to accept the head nod from a client and walk out of the room celebrating the new business or the just-finished campaign. I venture to say most of us have done it. But next time, let’s try taking it a step further. Ask the client if he/she understands how social media can best be used to benefit the brand. And if the conversation revolves solely around short-term goals, consult your client that social media may not be the best way to go for a number of reasons.

    When you first tried riding a bike, your parents said you would fall a few times, didn’t they? Maybe they bought you shoulder and knee pads (yes, I have some sweet pictures of that :) ). Probably a helmet. If no one had set expectations, you might have thought it would be just as easy as riding your big wheel, or whatever way-cooler motorized contraptions kids have these days.

    Expectations conversations can be tough. The client’s finally excited about social media and you don’t want to put a damper on things. But if you skip the expectations, you aren’t doing anyone any favors. And you’re likely to be having a much tougher conversation come results reporting time.

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