Social Media and The Law of Reciprocity

When it comes to social media marketing, we often hear that we should be providing value up front. If we provide a ton of value then people will buy from us. You’ve heard this right?

The problem is that the WHY is never explained fully. If you don’t know WHY you should be providing value and how that ties to your long term strategic success, it can be difficult to implement.

The Law Of Reciprocity

The reason why social media is so effective is the law of reciprocity. The law of reciprocity states that when someone provides us with something of value, we feel compelled to return the favour.

Let’s think about this. Has there ever been a time in your life where someone has done something really kind for you and you feel like you have to do something to say thank you? In a business context, has anyone ever referred a client and you’ve felt as though you need to refer one back? It usually creates a nagging feeling that can weigh heavy on our hearts.

I’m sure we have all been there at some point in our lives. The law of reciprocity can be extremely influential. Not only do we feel a need to ‘return the favour’ but we tend to feel a need to over compensate. Whatever action we choose to reciprocate with is normally of higher value than that which we initially received. It’s only after this return that we can feel comfortable or ‘even’.

Do you we HAVE to reciprocate? No, of course not. Society over a long period of time has conditioned us to believe this. Think about some of these keywords and phrases:

“He’s all take.”

“I did all this for her and she didn’t even…”

No one wants to fall into this category. This is what influences our behaviour and compels us to return something of greater value.

How This Applies To Social Media

By connecting the dots we can quickly see WHY providing so much value up front…for FREE…compels our community to buy our products and services. A consumer doesn’t feel right that they are gaining so much for nothing in return.     <–

Side note: As with everything there are exceptions!

Looking at traditional sales, a lot of it is about pushing our marketing messages in people’s faces in the hope someone buys from us. It’s invasive, irritating and often makes the consumer want to run a mile.

In a crazy information packed world, the consumer doesn’t have time for that and doesn’t want that in their lives. They will block it out and look for shortcuts. Not only that but companies will help them find shortcuts because that is a solution most consumers  welcome and are willing to pay for.

How much do you love recording your favourite television shows so that you can fast-forward through the breaks? Or how much do you love blocking telesales calls from disrupting your day with continuous ringing?

People don’t care about your products, services and how great you claim to be. This isn’t value, it’s spam.

However, consumers do care about value. They want someone to provide not a product but a solution to their problem.

We also know that when a consumer feels like they have received value, they feel influenced to reciprocate. Now, as a business, when you add a price tag on that value it is usually enough to ease the consumers conscience. If you over deliver, they are likely to be a repeat customer and buy in to your upsell. When this happens, the law of reciprocity does come into play but so do other factors such as lower risk for an assured standard.

By providing a huge amount of FREE value to our community on social media, they are gaining solutions to their problems with zero investment of their part. Over time, when you do introduce an offer or encourage a sale, they feel like they owe you one. They feel a need to reciprocate.

This is why providing free value to your audience is so important. That doesn’t mean giving everything away. It means being conscience in your posting and focusing on the BIG PICTURE. Content is valuable but so is engagement. It’s the engagement that builds the relationship up.

The Golden Rule

There is a dark side to the law of reciprocity. This is an influence tactic. If we break it down, we can persuade people to do what we want. That’s not always a good thing. If we are going to use this tactic, it’s important that we do it the right way, an ethical way. Otherwise, instead of providing part of a solution that you intend to build on through your products and services, you resort to manipulation and blackmail. Two things that never go down well and consumers will see through.

To avoid this, we need to have zero expectations of a return. If we just put out great content and engage so that our consumers will buy from us, it’s not really value. The consumer will know that you are giving them something in order to gain a return and the consumer will choose to opt out just like they do with traditional push marketing methods. In this situation, you are asking instead of giving.

Provide so much value that you EARN the right to ask for a sale. #socialmedia

— Chloë Forbes-Kindlen (@C4Compete) October 30, 2014

This influence tactic is highly effective but remember the point is to provide so much value that you EARN the right to ask for the sale. That takes time. While your intention is to use this technique to achieve strategic success in the long run, you don’t have an expectation that consumers will buy. The magic lies in you taking that risk by giving up front through knowledge and time. You build trust. It is that act that triggers the law of reciprocity.

Case Study: Dallas Page and Jake Roberts

One of the best examples of the law of reciprocity in action is Indiegogo (or alternatives). This is a site predicated on consumers volunteering to pay and invest in your dream/vision/solution.

People don’t have to invest but they do because you are adding value, if you have done something for them, they want to give back.

To take this further, I want to share an incredible story of a wrestler Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. Jake Roberts was a WWE wrestler, one of the best. He entertained the crowds with his exceptional moves, story telling and famous snake in a bag that he would bring down to the ring. Jake did this because he loved wrestling and he loved the fans.

Don’t get me wrong, Jake Roberts was paid to perform but it took it’s toll. Not only was he physically hurt but emotionally, it sent Jake down a destructive path. Jake’s life fell apart through drugs and alcohol.

Then one day a few years ago, another wrestler Diamond Dallas Page decided to call Jake up and invite Jake to come and live with him. Jake had been somewhat of a mentor when Dallas was starting out in the wrestling business. Seeing how bad things had got for Jake, Dallas felt a deep need to reach out to his friend and help him. Notice the law of reciprocity in action?

Dallas Page is no doctor but he has created one of the most incredible Yoga fitness programs called

‘DDP Yoga’

. By working closely with Jake encouraging healthy eating and well being. Minus a few set backs,  Jake has been recovering from his addictions for a couple years now.

Roughly one year ago, Jake needed a serious operation on his shoulder. It has been badly damaged for years working in the ring. There was just one problem, he didn’t have the funds. Dallas convinced Jake to set up an IndieGoGo account and within 12 hours of publicising on Facebook and Twitter, Jake had half the funds to go ahead with the operation.

It was unbelievable! Yes, they offered something in return but it was a token gift. That’s not why people gave back. They gave back because Jake had done so much for them. Fans of Jake didn’t hesitate to give up their own money because Jake had given them so much value through entertainment over the years.  What’s even more incredible is Jake’s reaction because he has zero expectation. You can see the video below, it’s a real tear jerker!

While this is not a business case study, I think it really highlights the law of reciprocity in action. It shows how deep and powerful this law in action can be.

It works and in a business context, it makes for much more meaningful relationships with your customers. The key is to add this value and really care about providing it to your community. When you do this, you build lifetime customer value and there is no better way to achieve this at scale than using social media.

As always, I hope you found this post valuable. If you did, it would mean the world to me if you left a comment and shared on social.