The Reciprocity Effect in Influence Marketing

In psychology, reciprocity is a social rule that states you ought to repay, in kind, what another has provided for you. Many refer to this type of in-kind interchange as the golden rule; do unto others as you would have them do to you. So reciprocity is the obligation to return a favor. For most, this philosophy has been drilled into us from childhood to such a degree, that when we don’t reciprocate any good turn, we feel uncomfortable and out of balance.

We experience this type of effect in our personal lives every day; someone bought you a birthday gift so you feel obligated to do the same, you invite someone to a party because they previously invited you, or you donate to a charity because they send something to you.

This reciprocation called the Reciprocity Effect in influence marketing is used heavily. For instance, brands give away free samples or trials of their products and services to make their customers feel more indebted to them in order to ask for something in return–usually a purchase.

When used correctly, the principle of reciprocity is powerful in the acquisition of new customers and the development of existing ones, facilitating stronger, deeper, and more long-lasting relationships with your audience. But the brand must break the barrier of mistrust that viewers have with business and sponsored or sale-grabbing posts. And you need to understand that a person’s tendency to want to give back is strongest when the recipient feels the gesture is sincere and there’s no expectation of a return gesture. As a rule of thumb, you should never ask for something in return for what you are giving.

There are a few more things you should keep in mind when attempting to use this type of influencer marketing with your audience.

First, no matter what you are offering to your audience, even if it’s generic, the offer should be perceived to be given to the user individually. This can be done in several ways; some form of personalization, an offer that benefits the audience member’s psychographic or demographic profile, or allowing the customer to take advantage of an offer that best suits them at that moment.

When deciding what to offer your audience, provide them with a gift of value that benefits their lives outside of their relationship with your business or the use of your product. The key is to give them a gift of value. Some of the most impactful offers online have been content marketing; teaching your audience something that benefits them, this could be in the way of articles, videos, ebooks, webinars, or podcasts. Others have given free resources, downloads, guides, or free trials.

Since relationships are two-way streets, if you provide a gift that is clearly geared towards the purchase of more of your products, you’ll garner mistrust from the recipient and your attempts may backfire.

Make suggestions of ways that your customer can reciprocate. Remember, you want to allow them the opportunity to respond in a way that will ultimately help your brand or business. So suggesting the expression of their gratitude in one or two ways will offer them the opportunity to choose what best suits them and indicates a higher incidence of reciprocity. And be the first to reach out–thanking a customer for or rewarding them for a purchase may encourage them to correspond with another good act.

Finally, don’t allow the relationship to end. When a customer responds in kind to an offer you’ve extended, continue the relationship by offering another gift, or value-added offer. Then again provide your customer options to recommend you to his or her friends.

The Reciprocity Effect can be a powerful tool to use in your influencer marketing efforts if you use it correctly. It can also provide you a long and healthy relationship with your audience and make you an easy referral to new prospective customers.

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