As social media increasingly becomes an engine for commerce, the application of reciprocity is important to boost audience engagement and sales.
Reciprocity, as defined by Wikipedia is:
The norm of reciprocity is the social expectation that people will respond to each other in kind—returning benefits for benefits… An underlying norm of reciprocity is by itself a powerful engine for motivating, creating, sustaining, and regulating the cooperative behavior required for self-sustaining social organization.
And might I add sales.
According to one of the leading authorities (and authors) on Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini, the principle of reciprocity is universal. It is one of the first rules we learn as a citizen of our culture: I understand that I am obligated to give back to you in the form of behavior that you first give to me.
If you give me a holiday gift, I am obligated to give you a holiday gift. If you “like” my company on Facebook, I am obligated to “like” your company on Facebook. In short – if you do me a favor, I owe you a similar favor in return.
In ancient Rome, political power was based on this principle of “If I get, I must give back in return. Or else.” Today’s political pundits would have us believe Washington is following suit. And we’ve all watched enough of The Godfather movies to get the good, the bad and the ugly (pardon the movie genre switch) ramifications and rules of reciprocity.
The moment you give something to someone, the principle of reciprocity locks in.
The following chart from Wikipedia walks you through the reciprocity chain of events:
Chart: courtesy of Wikipedia
Based on some of his recent speeches, it seems that one of Cialdini’s favorite examples is the Disabled American Veterans – and their “gift” of return address labels printed with your name on it. Do you remember receiving those little, sticky labels that you never asked for? Well, if you’re like a lot of your fellow humans, the principles of reciprocity kicked in – and even though you may never use those little labels, you probably made a donation nonetheless – after all, DAV took the time to print YOUR NAME on labels! Well, of course, you are not alone. Cialdini reports that DAV’s success rate typically increases from the sans label success rate of 18% to an amazing 35% success rate with labels.*
For Considered-Purchase Brands, the big-ticket, durable nature of your product or service makes the principle of reciprocity even more exciting and opportunistic – you need to engage and persuade over the long run.
By using the connectivity endemic in the principle of reciprocity, you can make the inherent “long buying cycle” not only shorter, but also more engaging, more rewarding and more fun – after all, who doesn’t love being loved back.
5 Gift Starter Ideas for unleashing the Principle of Reciprocity:
1. CONTENT: Your prospects need information – they are researching a large investment. Instead of “charging” for your valuable content by first asking the person to register their contact and other information before being allowed access to this very valuable white paper, research, etc. – try giving the content first, with a request to register at the end of the content. Reciprocity should kick in and they’ll return the favor with their contact information. Post your content on your website, your blog, Linked In, Facebook – all your social channels, and ask for the registration/connection at the end of each content – then let reciprocity do the rest.
2. MEMBERSHIP: Most people want to feel they are special to you. Develop a VIP Club for your active prospects and reward them for their acceptance with incentives, insights and ideas. These “gifts” should be something not offered to the general public – and they should be given with no expectation of a purchase – but with every hope of connection. In addition to traditional outreach, employ social media to extend the invitations. You have given your audience the gift of membership, and they will reciprocate with the gift of their connection and participation. Now, you have an active, engaged and appreciated audience.
3. INSIDER STORIES: People naturally want to have the inside scoop on a company they are considering buying from. Try gifting your customers with “insider stories” – the more personal these stories are, the more effective they will be. Ideas can include videos from your CEO – expressing your company’s commitment, philosophy, unique value, etc. You can also use videos with the history of your company, the unique skills of your craftsmen or scientists, your company’s success stories, and your challenges (great challenges conquered through strong values make for powerful stories). Then, invite your audiences’ reactions – which should be plentiful, based on their inherent need to return the favor. And once again, stay connected to make the long run shorter.
4. SHARE POWER: Help your happy customers shine by giving them an easy, and rewarding venue in which to share their successful experiences with your company. Give a personalized “thank you” gift (coupon, happy customer bonus or discount). After all, every customer first came to you with a need, usually in the form of a problem – and you’ve provided the solution. Now that you’ve rewarded with a post-sale “thank you gift” – it’s time to ask for a little reciprocal altruism by inviting them to show their support for your company and giving them easy ways to share: Tell the media, email a friend, link to us, share your story (with an easy way to submit their story for your website, your blog, your Facebook, etc.)
5. PLAYTIME: It’s the one gift that most adults are woefully low on, which makes it an extremely surprising and appreciated gift. So why not give the gift of fun, by offering GAMES – through your website and your branded social media channels. Create several really exciting and challenging online games, then give free tokens to your audience (and toss in some insights and information on your product or service). What a fun gift. And double the fun (and reciprocity) by giving earned rewards for their scores, which can be applied toward their inevitable purchase.
Are you using the principles of reciprocity in your marketing? How about in your social media marketing? Are you tracking, measuring and analyzing the results? What gifts are you giving in advance of the sale? What seems to work best for your company? And, the biggest question, what other gift ideas would you recommend brands use to unleash the principles of reciprocity?
*Despite the recent controversy at the DAV, the principles of reciprocity hold true.