Posts tagged Reciprocity

Recprocity – United Twares

08-14-2009 BY bbulman

United Airlines has recently embraced Twitter and is trying to build a following on the service. They are using special “twitter-only” fares that are highly discounted and very limited in time. If you follow @unitedairlines you will occasionally and without notice receive these “twares” tweets.

This has built a very quick following upwards of 30,000.  This is a great example of Balanced Reciprocity.

Picture 46

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Reciprocity on Facebook

BY bbulman

A recent trend I have been seeing with brands on Facebook is to offer some sort of value in exchange for the consumer to “Fan” their brand on Facebook. While we could talk about if there is a real value of a consumer “fanning” your brand in Facebook, that is for another time.

Early adopter brands like Starbucks and Coke have been on Facebook for a while, but recently brands have really started to more heavily invest in presences on Facebook. An interesting example of how brands are building followings on Facebook is NBC, which has started promoting many of it’s new shows via Facebook Fan Pages, such as it’s upcoming fall show Community.

NBC is giving visitors to the Community fan page access to the new show’s pilot a month earlier than it’s premiere on air in late September. All visitors have to do is become a fan of Community on Facebook.  It’s a classic case of Balanced Reciprocity, when one agent gives away goods/services to another with the expectation of something in return at a later date. In this example, the value being given way is exclusive access to the pilot earlier than most of the public, and the expected return is that the consumer will be receptive to future marketing message from NBC.

NBC's Community Facebook Page

The site tells consumers they must become a fan before watching, but instead of building functionality to limit viewing to fans only, NBC uses messaging to try and influence consumers to become a fan.

I expect this to be pretty successful, and expect to see more and more brands trying experiments like this on Facebook as they try to find new ways to engage with consumers.

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An Introduction to Reciprocity

07-20-2009 BY Bill Bulman

n. pl. rec·i·proc·i·ties
1. A reciprocal condition or relationship.
2. A mutual or cooperative interchange of favors or privileges, especially the exchange of rights or privileges of trade between nations.

The paramount driver of Reciprocity is that all people are psychologically driven to repay debts of all kinds.  If someone does something for you, you feel obligated to repay, almost always on instinct.

Real-World examples include things like:

  • A Coworker asks you to work a shift for them, and you say yes, even though you had plans, because a few months ago the coworker worked a shift for you.
  • A client and you are having lunch and as the check arrives the client grabs it and says, “Lunch is on me. You get it next time.”  Then a few days later the client calls and asks you to do something extra outside the scope of work on the project, and you automatically say Yes.  How could you refuse after such a nice lunch the client paid for?
  • In the 70’s and 80’s Hare Krishnas were common at airports, where they gave travelers a flower and then asked for a donation. Once the traveler has taken a beautiful flower, it is hard to refuse a donation.

Reciprocity is a shortcut for making a decision about doing something for someone, based solely on your past experience with that person. In layman’s terms it is called Returning the Favor.  This future obligation allows for various types of continued relationships, transactions, and exchanges.

According to cultural anthropologists Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, there is not a human society in the world that doesn’t follow the principle of Reciprocity.  This principle is rooted in our subconscious, trained from childhood and is almost impossible to resist without suffering social disapproval.

3 Basic Types of Reciprocity

Generalized Reciprocity is the when one person gives away goods and services to another person without expecting anything in return. The giver feels a sense of satisfaction, and the social connection the gift fosters.  In modern society this occurs mainly between children and parents or within couples. In other cultures it can occur within large kin groups or clans.

There is usually a large amount of trust and a minimal amount of social distance between the giver and receiver.


Balance/Symmetrical Reciprocity is when one person gives something to another person, expecting a fair and substantial return at some later date. The social expectation is that people will repay their debts in the future. Those take and do not give back are ostracized from the group and labeled as such. Examples include Mooch, Freeloader, Bum, etc.

As a person begins to not pay back these favors it becomes harder and harder for them to obtain favors from others.

There is usually a moderate amount of trust and social distance between two participants.


Negative Reciprocity is when a person provides goods or labor and expects to be repaid immediately with other goods or labor of similar value. This is also called the act of bartering.  Negative Reciprocity usually takes place between acquaintances or strangers, as it can involve a minimum amount of trust and a maximum social distance.


Negative Reciprocity was and still is a prevalent form of exchange in nonindustrial societies between different groups. Another term that you may have heard that relates to Negative Reciprocity is the common phrase “quid pro quo”.

So how does this relate to the world of marketing?

The simplest form of Reciprocity is for a brand to give something away. This can be a gift, a service, valuable information, or anything of perceived value to the consumer.  This is done to create a feeling of indebtedness to the brand. Once the person has received value from the “free gift”, they are more prone to accepting a sales pitch.

A perfect example of this online are web applications that have a free 30 day trial, or a free basic plan. Once the consumer feels the application provides them some value, they are more like to be enticed by upsells.

Characteristics that make Reciprocity so powerful include:

  • The principle is is so overwhelming it normally cancels out all other factors in regards to accepting the request.
  • Uninvited initial favors exceedingly decrease our ability to decide who and what we owe, and put the choice in the hands of others.
  • Reciprocity is so strong that it can easily spur unequal value exchanges.  For example, an individual may agree to a much larger favor then initial received, just to remove the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness.

How Reciprocity is used in sales

Another way in which the Rule of Reciprocity can increase compliance involves a simple variation on the basic theme: instead of providing a favor first that stimulates a returned favor, an individual can make instead an initial concession–that stimulates a return concession.

One compliance procedure, called the “rejection-then-retreat technique”, or door-in-the-face technique, relies heavily on the pressure to reciprocate concessions. By starting with an extreme request that is sure to be rejected, the requester can then profitably retreat to a smaller request–the one that was desired all along. This request is likely to now be accepted because it appears to be a concession. Research indicates, that aside from increasing the likelihood that a person will say yes to a request–the rejection-then-retreat technique also increases the likelihood that the person will carry out the request a will agree to future requests.


The best defense against manipulation by the use of the Rule of Reciprocity to gain compliance is not the total rejection of initial offers by others. But rather, accepting initial favors or concessions in good faith, while also remaining prepared to see through them as tricks–should they later be proven so. Once they are seen in this way, there is no longer a need to feel the necessity to respond with a favor or concession.

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