Brands live in the dispassionate world of accounting, regulation, quarterly reports and ROI while consumers live in the emotional world of feelings, irrationality, relationships and happiness. In the business world, exchanges of value are exact and defined, with reciprocity measured in debits and credits that always balance. But reciprocity in the human world has no such universal or precise rules. Social media is a place where the rules of reciprocity in the business and human worlds collide, and the brands that do not understand this will fail to provide the necessary emotional reasons for consumers to reciprocate in valuable ways.
Reciprocity in social media, while often discussed, is little understood. A common mistake in social media is to treat reciprocity like a contract--"I followed/retweeted/liked/shared/commented about you, and now I expect you to do the same in return." Or, even worse, "I gave you a coupon, and now I expect you will advocate on my behalf to your friends and family." That line of logic is mistaken because it applies the rigor of business reciprocity to the emotional and subconscious processes that create human reciprocity.
Devising the right social media approach requires strategists who can begin the journey in the business world (with cost-benefit assessments, metrics and yearlong strategic calendars) but end in the human world (with an understanding of emotions, real-time needs and irrational reciprocity). If a brand wishes to create action that matters, such as sparking advocates to actively champion a product, it must do so with more emotion than logic.
It's not that humans never reciprocate logically, but that logical reciprocation is a zero sum game--the value of the reciprocal action is less than or equal to the cost. A coupon can cause people to purchase a product, but it cannot get them to repurchase it, much less tattoo the logo onto their body. To spark a substantially unequal reciprocal action requires an appeal to emotion, not to logic. This is why most corporate demo videos uploaded to YouTube collect a couple hundred views while "Will it Blend?" now tops 161 million views.
When faced with an emotionally powerful experience or offer, humans do not act predictably but rather come to decisions based on complex subconscious mental calculations. We humans consider reciprocity from several angles including:
- The reason for making the offer: Why was this positive action made toward me? What are the motives on the part of the other party? What might I have done to deserve it?
- The value of the gift given: How valuable is this gift or offer to me, based on my situation and set of experiences?
- The cost of the gift given: How much did it cost for the other party to extend this offer, and how much additional cost will they incur if I accept?
- The uniqueness of the offer: Is this a personalized offer made only to me, or is this something that the other party will give to others?
- The implications of reciprocity: How will reciprocating affect my reputation among others? How will it alter my relationship with the party who extended the gift or offer? What are the costs of reciprocating?
- Variance from expected norm: How does this positive action differ from my what I expect of the other party?
- Options for reciprocating: How can I reciprocate? Which option best satisfies the feeling I have to reciprocate?
Considered from this vantage point, it is easy to see how offering a free bagel in exchange for a Facebook "like" is a poor social media program, no matter the objectively measurable outcome. Einstein Bagels made just such as offer, and it garnered a 7,000% increase in Facebook fans in just three days. That is the stuff of many headlines, but a few quarters later, Einstein's parent company reported disappointing revenue with same-store sales down more than a percent, and it has some of the lowest growth in the restaurant industry. A free bagel was a substantial variance from the norm, but the reason for making the offer was logical and monetary, the offer was unemotional, and a Facebook "like" creates little value for the brand. Einstein got "likes" and gave away bagels, but it didn't deepen relationships or spark advocacy.
Contrast that to P&G's social media campaign for "Let Her Jump," which used an emotional video to advocate for ski jumping to be included as a sport in the upcoming Winter Olympics. Among women who viewed the Let Her Jump video, 57 percent reported that their impression of the brand had improved, and the brand saw a 50 percent jump in purchase intent among those who viewed the video. In addition, clinical sales increased 8 percent, despite cutting TV support by 70 percent.
This sort of emotional appeal has become part of Secret's brand strategy in social media. According to Ad Age, a woman wrote on Secret's Facebook wall that she couldn't buy Secret in Spain, and P&G was not able to simply send her products because of customs regulations. The solution? An agency executive took some of the deodorant on an unrelated trip to Italy and mailed the woman Secret from there.
Consider Secret's social media strategy against the ways humans evaluate reciprocation, and it's easy to recognize why it succeeded; the appeal from Secret was unexpected and emotional, and it spoke to something bigger than underarms and discounts. Secret's brand and social strategy is paying off in store aisles--in the year ending October 31, 2010, Secret was the second-best-selling brand of deodorant in the US and Secret Clinical Strength was fourth.
The message for brands is clear: You need to give consumers more in social media--not more discounts or other logical benefits but more emotional reasons to engage with, share and consider the brand. Any brand can launch a Facebook page, upload a video to YouTube or create a Twitter sweepstakes, but how many brands can dig deep and create an emotional connection that sparks the desire in consumers to reciprocate in big, visible and unequal ways?
Before you answer with an excuse about how your category is low engagement, consider the example presented. How many of you have "friended" your underarm deodorant on Facebook? Yet P&G found a way to create significant and valuable reciprocity in social channels. They didn't do it by raving about Secret's product features or offering coupons--they offered more and got more.
If you're disappointed with your social media results, don't work harder to fashion strategies with objective tit-for-tat reciprocity; instead, give more--more of yourself, more that matters to consumers and more emotion. People may buy once because you've made them think, but they buy and advocate often for those brand that make them feel.