I recently published articles on Social Proof and Scarcity, two of the most powerful forces when it comes to human decision making, and thus marketing and selling.

Another equally important concept is Reciprocity. I think reciprocity, more than any other technique, is one every online business owner needs to master, especially if your platform is built on your personal brand.

What Is Reciprocity?

Wikipedia explains Reciprocity as:

Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.

As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal – Wikipedia.

In other words, do something nice and people will feel compelled to do something nice for you in return.

We all know what this feels like. It’s innate to all human beings to feel a strong sense to reciprocate with someone who made us feel a certain way with an action that will make them feel the same. If they treat us well, we want to do the same. If they treat us bad, we feel like dishing something negative back at them.

You can’t deny these feelings, but you certainly can learn to spot the triggers and then choose how you react, especially when it comes to negative reciprocity. One bad deed that you attempt to “pay back”, or even just one person complaining about you, leading you to complain about them, creates a spiral of negativity that can drag you down to horrible, even violent places (many of the world’s conflicts continue because one group constantly seeks retribution from another, and vice versa ad infinitum).

Learning how to control your internal dialogue in response to negative actions, is a great way to stop yourself from reciprocating with the same. That however is not the topic of this article. What we want to look at now is how Reciprocity, in particular positive actions, can lead to more traffic to your website and sales of your products and services.

Reciprocity As A Marketing Mechanism

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the first places I enjoyed the benefits of reciprocity was as a result of conducting podcast interviews.

I interviewed prominent people in my niche, which while providing great content for my blog, also provided exposure for the person I interviewed. Not only did this open a dialogue between us, it also triggered reciprocity.

When it came time to ask for certain leading bloggers to promote my free report, they all agreed because they felt they “owed” me for helping increase their exposure thanks to writing about them, interviewing them and other things I did to help them.

Obviously there are a lot of subtle elements when it comes to any relationship, but you shouldn’t underestimate how effective just doing good deeds for other people can be. It’s possibly the best marketing technique available online because you can use it to get the attention of virtually any person AND even make them feel a sense of debt to you. This guarantees at the very least they will pay attention when you ask for something.

Writing a blog that provides value is an attempt to generate reciprocity from your audience. By giving great content you are helping people and that in turn leads to them liking you, trusting you, and makes them willing to do something for you as a way to return the favor. That sense of wanting to return the favour often comes into play when it’s time to make a buying decision.

Affiliate marketing, especially for a blogger, is driven by reciprocity. I can’t tell you the number of times a person has bought something via my affiliate link and then told me they did so to return the favor for helping them with my blog and free reports.

Reciprocity comes into play any time you do something for another person. I present on stage at an event, or do an affiliate promotion for someone, and that makes them much more likely to want to return the favour in the future. Reciprocity is so strong that people will often say “yes” to a request after you have helped them, just to not feel the sense of guilt that comes from refusing to help.

Of course reciprocity is not to be used as a tool to prey on people’s emotions just to get what you want. Positive reciprocity is generated best when you do things not expecting anything in return. Intent behind actions matters too.

Don’t Get In Too Deep

Reciprocity is a two-way street, so you have to be careful sometimes before you implement marketing techniques that may benefit you short term, but in the long term can do more harm than good.

For example, when doing a launch with lots of affiliates supporting you, some of them are going to expect you to return the favor when it’s time for their launch. For all kinds of reasons you might not want to promote their product (the product doesn’t suit your audience, it’s poor quality, you have a schedule conflict, you just don’t want to promote too many things).

If the affiliate made a bunch of sales of your product, you will find it hard to resist the influence of reciprocity and will want to support them too. If you suddenly find yourself feeling indebted to lots of people, and you decide to say yes to them all, you risk damaging relationships with your own customers by promoting way too much and too often. This then reduces conversion and thus you struggle to return the favor of making sales for your affiliate partner’s products anyway!

If you decide not to reciprocate, you trigger the negative form of reciprocity. There’s a very good chance that a person who expected a favor returned after helping you will never support you again. They may even go so far as to bad mouth you to others because they are so upset.

As you can see, reciprocity is a powerful force and used incorrectly can cause possibly more damage than when used as a force of influence to help you achieve your goals. That’s why you need to be careful whom you say yes to when they offer help, and when you help, do not expect anything in return. Balance and a giving mindset without an agenda wins.

Practical Techniques To Drive Traffic And Make Sales With Reciprocity

Here are some practical techniques you can implement to invoke positive reciprocity from any expert you are trying to get in touch with (and yes you can try using these techniques on me if you like!).

  • Write articles that specifically focus on or at least mention a person you are attempting to connect with. Of course make sure the article is valuable to your audience, but if you can draw in a certain expert by mentioning their work, especially if you are positive about it and send them traffic, your job is done. Try repeating this many times if you really want to grab attention.
  • Podcast interviews are still effective tools to generate reciprocity. It can work either way – you interviewing someone else and sending them traffic, or you be interviewed by them offering valuable content. Just bear in mind certain people will view an interview as doing a favor for you depending on who you are interviewing and what you can offer in return.
  • Ask a person what problem they are grasping with right now and then offer to help them. You can’t necessarily help everyone, but maybe you just happen to be the right person for the job.
  • Offer them access to your resources, give them your software, build them a website, write some copy for them, set up their blog, do research for them… just find a way to create value and then give it to them.

You can try the following techniques to influence your audience and elicit positive reciprocity. The more you do of the following, the more people will buy from you and recommend you, which helps with both traffic and profits.

Best of all, if you do this without asking for or expecting anything in return, you will reap rewards eventually – it’s like a law of nature. Plus you get to enjoy giving just for the sake of giving (yes it really is Christmas!).

  • Give away your best ideas. This is still the single most powerful form of reciprocity generation I have ever come across.
  • Package up your best ideas in complete resources like free reports, video series, audios, ebooks, books and physical study materials. The more all-in-one solutions you provide in easy to consume formats, the more people will feel indebted to you.
  • Be prolific in both content volume and media format. By delivering your best ideas in easy to consume and complete formats using all types of media (text, audio, video, physical and digital), and making it all available at the most popular sites (google, itunes, amazon, youtube), you reach more people.
  • Over deliver beyond expectations that you originally set. If you set a certain expectation, then exceed it and do it in unexpected ways. Do this often enough and people will start to evangelize. There’s no greater form of reciprocity from your audience than when a community forms around you and you become part of the common vernacular in your industry.
  • Give rewards. Offer coupons for discounts, free products, invitations to events, gift vouchers – anything that will surprise and deliver value. This of course needs to be perceived as genuine value and not just a “marketing” trick, so make sure you work within your audience’s expectations.

Don’t forget, once you have established some good will with reciprocity, it’s important to “cash in” at some point. Sure you go into this expecting nothing in return, but at some point you will need to do things to help grow your business, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Again, do it expecting nothing, this is not meant to be seen as a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” relationship or the true heart of reciprocity is lost.

You can ask for links, or guest posts, or JVs, affiliate promotions, interviews, opportunities to speak at events, access to contractors, free products and services – anything you currently need to help your business.

Just make sure the magnitude of what you are asking for is within the realm of the help you provided initially to invoke the reciprocity.

If you really do over deliver, you will find people come to you offering to reciprocate without even being asked for it. I’ve enjoyed this experience thanks to my blog many times. It can be one of the most heart-warming experiences that comes from sharing your ideas online.

Help People

Reciprocity should not be a hard concept to grasp. We all understand it.

It’s also an easy technique to implement because all people who are sane of mind enjoy the experience of helping others.

The challenge, as with most things, is not letting all the reasons that stop you from contributing to other people’s lives get in your way. Laziness, fear, jealousy, low self esteem, poor choices – all of these things can stop you from doing the work necessary to help others and trigger reciprocity.

Using Social Proof, Scarcity and now Reciprocity, you have some of the most powerful marketing forces available when selling to humans. Use it wisely to help others in mutually beneficial relationships and you can have a pretty incredible business.