Raising Expectations: Can You Deliver?

Through several client engagements the last few weeks, I noticed a common trend – the importance of carefully considering how raising audience expectations inadvertently can cause significant damage to your communications efforts.

Case in point: A client was working on a survey of its key stakeholders and wanted to explore opinions about several new initiatives and services that could be offered. This raised a red flag for me – a survey is a form of communication in and of itself. If you ask your constituents about potential new initiatives, doesn’t this create an expectation that new things are coming?

For example, if a membership association asks its members if they are interested in discounts on goods and services, new publications or conference programs, it’s fair to assume that the impression left by the question – regardless of the answer – is that new benefits are being considered.

If your organization is struggling with the basics, it may do more harm than good to start exploring new avenues with stakeholders if they point to directions that are likely unrealistic or unsustainable. Remember the golden rule of surveying – don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer to.

Other cases of unintentionally raising audience expectations abound in the area of social media. Consider the government program that creates a Twitter presence to disseminate information one-way, yet does nothing to respond to questions or participate in a dialogue. Or the business that advertises online with a banner ad promoting a discount, with no ability to click the ad or interact with the information.

Your audience’s attention is a valuable and transient resource. Use it wisely, and abuse it at your peril.