Web Marketing Influence: Reciprocation

Paper.liAs humans, we are hard-wired to reciprocate a favor. By building favors into your online marketing you can ethically grow your business.

One of the major tenets of influence, according to Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuation, is reciprocity. Cialdini says:

“We are trained from childhood to chafe, emotionally, under the saddle of obligation. For this reason alone, then, we may be willing to agree to perform a larger favor than we received, merely to relieve ourselves of the psychological burden of debt.”

This is why Hare Krishnas give flowers to travelers at airports before asking for money; they know it’s difficult for people to receive a gift–no matter how small–and then refuse to give a donation.

In another example, the Disabled American Veterans organization sent a donation request mailing that got a respectable 18% response rate. They did another mailing and included those self-adhesive address labels and nearly doubled their response rate to 35%!

These are interesting examples of human behavior, but how can you use them to market your business? (And to do it ethically!)

If people are likely to return or repay a favor, then you should figure out how to create favors. Here are some examples:

  • Recommend people on LinkedIn before being asked: I used this for a while before I realized I was leveraging reciprocation. I would recommend someone and four out of five times the person would immediately write a recommendation for me. While that wasn’t my goal, it certainly was a nice outcome.
  • Create a Paper.li Daily Paper based on a Twitter list you create: This will give others free promotion to your list, and they’ll get a Twitter mention every time they’re featured. I get thanks and RTs almost every day from a couple of papers I created. I hated to break it to people that the list is created automatically, so I stopped! Plus, the fact that the tweet is automatically created doesn’t diminish the point that I found these people and added them to a list I keep on Twitter.
  • Interview people for your blog or video: Ask people you respect to be interviewed for your blog or video. This is especially effective if you have a blog with good reach, or if you can blog for an organization with a wide reach. (I have the pleasure of being able to blog for both FastCompany.com and Social Media Examiner.) Make it easy on them by asking if they want to be interviewed via phone, in person, or by email. (Email allows them to craft their answer and appear much smarter and clever than they actually are…which is why it’s my personal favorite.)
  • Offer advertising space on your blog for free: Whether it was unused or not, you can generate a lot of good will by offering advertising space to your customers, prospects, or local non-profits. 
  • Put on free, educational webinars: By creating free webinars that help your ideal customer, you have created some obligation. You can then follow up a 45-minute, content-rich presentation with an offer or request. You’ll have much better success than just asking for the sale right away.

Again, you can use these techniques for good or evil. Part of what I love about living in Maine is that it’s a “small town.” What comes around, goes around. The same is true on social media.

If people feel you are manipulating their behavior, you may end up destroying your reputation and your business. (Cialdini shares some examples in his book.)

Instead, just be aware of our human need to repay favors, and use them to improve your web marketing and social media networking techniques.

Have you ever knowingly or unknowingly used the power of reciprocity in your own marketing? Or do you have some ideas on what you might do differently, now that you’re aware of reciprocity? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Who knows…maybe I’ll feel obligated to visit your blog and return the favor.

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Next Weapon of Influence: Commitment and Consistency

Rich Brooks
Don’t Do Me Any Favors

2 Responses to “Web Marketing Influence: Reciprocation”

  1. Ns

    Just a few days after I read this post, I had an opportunity to utilize this concept.  I was working on a specific project for a client, and even though the allotted time/cost budget was already used up, I felt compelled to make a small fix which did not take me much time but I considered to be important to the core product that I was providing.  When I let my client know what I did, I told her “consider this [my company name]’s gift to you”.   Perhaps the good will that this generates will end up paying for the time I spent, and more!

  2. Rich Brooks

    That’s great! Recently I’ve been writing up some notes on a post called “What’s your upgrade?” It’s about how happy we are as consumers when we’re upgraded–either our room, or our rental, or whatever.

    As business owners, we should include secret upgrades in most all of our offerings.