HOW TO: Manage Social Media Goals and Expectations

goals-topBy by Ben Parr
Aug 2009

Special note: I saw this article by Ben Parr for those brands out there dipping their toes into the social media landscape. We encourage you to read on and and conquer.

You have insightful tweets, write amazing blog posts, and can make a viral video like it’s nobody’s business. So why don’t you have 500,000 followers, 50,000 views per video, and your own personal social media army? People have been setting some strange, unrealistic, and possibly misguided expectations recently in social media. While you might believe that you’re only worth something in social media if you have a huge audience, the simple fact is that it’s not true. Understanding what you want out of social media and having smart goals can mean the difference between frustration and enjoyment. This guide provides and overview of some ways to avoid the pitfalls of social media expectations and how to manage smart goals on the social web.

Popularity game vs. real value
The desire for social media popularity has been a growing phenomenon in recent years. There is an (unfair) perception that more followers or more readers = more value, and thus people have done some crazy things to grab attention. Even Facebook is succumbing by adding Facebook profile fans. Yet while it’s true that more attention can mean more shareability in general, you aren’t going to gain anything from people that don’t truly care about what you have to say. The value of social media drops dramatically if your accounts and activities are filled with people that don’t engage with you and don’t share what you have to say. There are so many ways to utilize social media beyond the popularity game that you are doing yourself a disservice if you obsess over your RSS reader count.

So the first step in managing your social media expectations is this: don’t get caught up in the popularity game. Find your own path in the social media world, one that is linked to your enjoyment and education. You don’t need to be the most subscribed-to person on FriendFeed to share music socially, to use social media for enterprise, or to make millions.

Avoiding pitfalls
This is what can happen when you become frustrated…

The biggest pitfall you can fall into when managing your social media expectations and goals is frustration and despair. And when you are frustrated or desperate, you make bad decision and say things you’d like to take back (i.e. how Astrospace destroyed its Twitter brand in minutes).

Control your emotions. Be aware of your emotions and how they can direct your interactions on social media. Because you have less LinkedIn connections doesn’t mean they are better or more popular. Here are the best tips for generating value and starting conversations with people that each side will care about:
Reach out: You will always be surprised by how many people reach back. Reaching out always builds real connections. And in the case of one person, reaching out even got her a job.

Focus on helping others: Give people a reason to follow you. Saying “I want you to follow me” isn’t a reason to follow someone. Check out some common reasons why people won’t follow you back on Twitter.

Be authentic: Authenticity is one of the key pillars to social media. You’re probably tired of hearing about it, but we’ll say it again – using a persona that is not your own will not end well. Sarah Evans highlights the importance of authenticity in her article Social Media for Business: The Do and & Don’ts of Sharing.

Be conscious of the pitfalls that can cause frustration, and then focus on real value.

Setting goals
Goal-setting, and writing those goals down, is an essential component of success. It’s also essential to really managing your social media expectations as well. When you have something to work for, rather than despairing over what you don’t have, you’re just more productive.

Why set a goal? – Set a goal to give you focus, to avert frustration, and most of all, to understand why you’re blogging and using Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace anyway. Is it just to connect with friends? Is it to promote a business? Or is it to build a reputation of expertise? Goal-setting is always an exploration of purpose, so take the time to explore.

What goal should I set? – Don’t be stuck with the mindset that the only metric that matters is popularity and the number of readers, followers, friends, subscribers, and viewers you can amass. Chatting with a new person every day or writing a great article on your blog every week are worthwhile goals for yourself and for others.

What if I don’t reach it? – Don’t stress: these goals are for you to have focus, not for you to pull hairs about. The key thing is to understand why you’re using these social media tools and to set your expectations and goals accordingly.

Remember, it’s not a race

Social media is about people, conversations, friendships, education, and communication. Social media is not a race. If you get over-competitive with people over followers, retweets, and popularity, you lose sight of the communication and learning aspects of social media, and the fun gets sucked right out.

When you are setting your social media expectations and goals, remember to avoid pitfalls that many enter. Really assess what you want to get out of your experience. If you do this early, you can avoid the frustration of aimless wandering quickly.

About Ben Parr: Ben Parr is a tech journalist, web entrepreneur, sci-fi author, and aspiring world changer. He has been writing for Mashable since August 2008 and joined up as Associate Editor In 2009. His previous experience includes project management for Facebook applications and content management in the web health space. Additionally, Ben is an analyst and consultant for his web/social media optimization firm Engage Analytics and recently completed his first sci-fi novel, The Eternal Sphere. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and holds a B.A. in Science in Human Culture, Political Science, and Business. He is a recent transplant to Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

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