Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reciprocity: What Have You Given To Your Customers Lately?

Corporations are not altruistic. By definition, they must be selfish, generating income and protecting the financial interests of shareholders. However, the ones that act as if this is their sole purpose for existence are the ones that will fail in our increasingly social world. Meanwhile, the ones that give more get more. This is not just a "nice" idea; it is the science of reciprocity.

Many years ago, I was scammed--in the nicest of ways. Sitting in a Vegas bar, a couple of young women walked in and started making friends quickly. They had visited a "legendary candy store" and could not wait to share treats from the large bags of delicious goodies. Strangers became friends, drinks were bought, candy was consumed, and everyone was happy.

It only occurred later that these two had invested $10 in bulk grocery store candy and received a 1000% return on their investment in the form of drinks purchased by strangers. Brilliant! Why would someone buy a $15 drink for a person who just shared 25 cents worth of malted milk balls? Reciprocity, and it works for people outside of bars, too.

Forty years ago, Professor Dennis Regan at Cornell University conducted a landmark study that examined the concept of reciprocity. Subjects volunteered to rate paintings, but that was not what the researchers were studying. Rather, a research assistant left the room midway through the exercise, sometimes returning empty handed and other times with a soda, saying, “I bought one for you too.” At the end, the assistant asked the subject to do him a favor by purchasing raffle tickets. You can guess the results--people who received the gift of a soda were far more likely to purchase tickets, even though the cost of the tickets surpassed the cost of the cola.

When you search online for "social media reciprocity," you tend to find many links about personal reciprocity, such as retweeting people so that, someday, they may retweet you. But what about brand reciprocity? Why do brands make so many offers that are unemotional and self-serving? "Retweet us and we'll donate a dollar." "Like us and get a free bagel." That is not reciprocity; that is non-monetary commerce--a straight-up exchange of value.
One example I like is Sharpie. They run contests, as you would expect, but they have dedicated the Sharpie Facebook page to the creative works of their fans. Using your brands' social media platform to promote others' ideas and creativity is like a gift, and Sharpie gets reciprocity in return--3 million fans and 30,000 people "talking about" the brand on Facebook. (Not too shabby for an office product.)
Another example is Wheat Thins "Crunch is Calling" gifts. Sent unexpectedly to folks who mention Wheat Things in social networks, these delicious packages come with no request to tweet or post, but that is exactly what people do when they get the gift of Wheat Thins. A tasty gift is reciprocated, more often than not.
Given the scientific validation of reciprocity, I am surprised more brands don't grab a bag of dime-store candy and start handing it out in bars, metaphorically speaking. Have you seen some good examples of brands giving gifts in social media? Any great case studies of reciprocity you care to share? If so, please comment below.


Ashesh Mazumdar said...

I really think the story of Peter Shankman receiving a steak from Mortons epitomises the concept of reciprocity. One of the best examples i have read of.

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Ashesh,

I think that's a great story, but I don't imagine Morton's can afford to give away (and deliver!) steaks to everyone in the hope they get reciprocity. But, to the right person they can! In fact, I wrote about that story also in one of my earlier blog posts: