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02/21/2011 Where Does Your People Meter Point To?

Do you expect the worst of people? Or do you expect people to do good? When you deal with customers or people from other divisions in your company, do you expect them to block your way and act negatively? Or do you expect them to help you and act openly?

Today when I went to the gym, I forgot my pass card that unlocks the door. I was early,  the location had no personnel present, so the door was locked. Luckily, the gym had lots of early morning exercisers. I knocked on the door, caught someone’s attention, and asked them to open the door. I yelled through the glass that I had forgotten my passcode.

They looked at me and shook their head “No.” No? All I had to do was wait until they opened the door to leave, which they did a minute later. As soon as they opened up, I said again, that I had forgotten my card, and offered my thanks. Unbelievably, they actually tried to block my way in!

For whatever reason, the people at the gym acted as if they expected the worst. Otherwise I wouldn’t have forgotten my card, would I? There wasn’t that much of a logical reason for them to act that way; that was simply their world view.

In today’s world of social marketing, it’s worth asking yourself whether you expect the worst or best from people. Technology might exacerbate the problem. According to Daniel Goldman, there’s a negativity bias to email at the neural level. We automatically expect the content to be negative.

This is one of the initial challenges with social marketing: most higher ups routinely expect that people will react negatively about a brand or organization when given a chance.

I think that this is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect people to act like jerks, they probably will. If you expect good things from people, you’ll probably see that they do. I think Daniel Goldman offers some guidance here: your expectations play a role in how you show up, online and offline. Your expectations of positivity or negativity will produce subtle cues in your writing, tone and content choice. People will react to those cues.

This post isn’t meant to encourage people to act naively. Yes, there are people who are negative and will act that way, without any help from you. And good-hearted people do exist and don’t feel turned off by your own standoffishness. But if we marketers plan to embrace social marketing as a way of growing business, we should shift our view of our people to expect, if not the best, then at least a lot of good.

I remember reading a quote by the director Wim Wenders a while back. He explained that he had changed himself from a pessimist to an optimist because he was tired of expecting the worst. It turned out that he was surprised that when he did so, more good things started happening to him.

Social marketers should learn from that. We should act like we expect good things from the people around us.



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