“Thanks for helping me out. How can I return the favor, buddy?”
Here’s a common response when you do something good for someone.
As human beings, we’re wired to treat people the way they treat us.
This is how reciprocity works.
We can incorporate the principle of reciprocity in online marketing to meet our goals.
Don’t believe me?
I’m going to share top reciprocity examples with you. You should be able to get a lot of value from this guide.
But first, let’s get to the basics!
What Is the Concept of Reciprocity?
Dr. Robert Cialdini cites reciprocity as one of the persuasion techniques in his book, Influence. In fact, reciprocity is first on his list.
Social reciprocity is defined as:
A phenomenon in which people feel obliged to give back after receiving a gift, favor, or being treated kindly by others.
Consider this simple everyday scenario:
You eat at a restaurant for the first time. Despite being busy, the staff made sure you were accommodated well. The food was served a bit late…
But they made up for it by offering a free dessert!
How would that make you feel? Special, right?
It may be a small gesture, but it makes a big difference in the way you perceive the restaurant business.
Oftentimes, a customer may want to give a tip.
If not, they may also return the favor in another way by telling their friends about it or becoming a regular customer.
An affiliate marketer produces insightful content that readers cannot find elsewhere. When it’s time to make a purchase, readers click on the marketer’s affiliate links.
This is their way of giving back because they appreciate the content that was provided to them!
The bottom line is — the person you give something to responds favorably in one way or another.
Why Should Marketers Embrace Reciprocity?
The importance of reciprocity cannot be underestimated. When used in your business, it can lead to growth.
Think about your marketing goals. Do you want to increase your email subscribers? Gain more word-of-mouth referrals? Acquire new customers and retain existing ones?
Below, we explain the ways reciprocity helps you reach your goals.
1. It puts power in your hands.
Although the obligation to repay is the main essence of the reciprocity law…
Cialdini adds another valuable point:
He says that when you offer something to someone, you make that person obligated to receive it. Saying no would be a difficult decision to make.
Suppose that your boss gave you a book that you really like. Accepting the gift is the easiest, most natural response to this kind gesture.
2. It triggers unfair exchanges.
There’s something you should know about reciprocity.
It’s very interesting:
Doing even the SMALLEST favor to someone can result in the person paying you back with something BIGGER.
Cialdini cites his student’s personal experience as an example:
Unable to start her car, Cialdini’s student was approached by a very young guy who offered help. She thanked him after successfully jump-starting her car.
As the guy was about to leave, she said that in case he needed a favor in the future, he could just stop by.
One month later, he came back, knocked on her door, and asked if he could borrow her car for two hours.
Guess what happened? She felt obligated to say yes. And she did.
(Even though she wasn’t sure about her decision!)
3. You can gain valuable audience information.
Reciprocity gives you the privilege of learning more about your target audience… which could boost your business’ growth.
A common example would be offering a free piece of amazing content. Inside that content would be a short survey or quiz that allows you to collect data.
Since they gained so much value from your content, your chances of getting that form filled out increase.
4 Key Strategies When Using Reciprocity
Here are some helpful techniques when leveraging the power of reciprocity. These will ensure campaigns that get you the results you want.
Tip #1: Be the first one to do the favor.
To employ reciprocity effectively, don’t want someone to make the first move. By being the one to initiate the favor, you increase the chances for people to comply with your request.
Tip #2: Make it personal.
Another key tactic when using reciprocity is personalization. You’re able to personalize when you understand your target audience. Find out what they like or are interested in!
Tip #3: Use a second smaller request.
Cialdini shared a personal experience:
While he was walking down the street, a boy approached and tried to sell him circus tickets for $5 per piece. Cialdini kindly declined.
The boy replied, “If you don’t want tickets, how about our chocolate bars?”
Each bar cost $1 each. He bought two chocolate bars and realized what had just happened. 😮
This is another strategy in reciprocation that makes your offer hard to resist.
When someone says no to your first offer because of the level of commitment required from the person, present a second one. It must be something that’s “smaller.”
To further prove whether this concept works, Cialdini and his research assistants did an experiment:
They posed as youth counseling program representatives.
They asked students on campus if they were willing to chaperon juvenile delinquents at the zoo for an entire day — without pay.
The majority of the students (83%) refused. Of course, this response was expected since the students found it to be a huge obligation.
But here’s what happened:
The next time, Cialdini’s team asked a bigger favor first from a similar audience — spending 2 hours per week as counselors to juvenile delinquents for 2 years.
They refused this bigger request... but agreed to the second one, which was the zoo trip!
Tip #4: Make it unexpected.
Another key element of reciprocity is unexpectedness. Offers or gifts that are unexpected drive people to pay you back.
The best way to apply this to marketing is to exceed your audience’s expectations.
For example, for your content marketing, you can create a detailed guide on a specific topic. It needs to be unparalleled by other guides on the internet.
10 Marketing Reciprocity Examples
Now, let’s take a look at some actual reciprocity examples. We hope that these will give you ideas for your future marketing campaigns.
1. Free samples at the supermarket
I can’t resist a free sample. Can you?
Free muffin… coffee… cinnamon rolls… you name it.
Cialidi states that giving a small amount of your product for free exposes your product to the world. Combine that free sample with a big smile on your face.
Who doesn’t want that?
Giovanni DeMeo, who handles Costco’s samples, said that free samples can spike sales short-term. But not just that, free samples also encourage long-term customer loyalty. 👌
2. A little experiment - Christmas cards for perfect strangers
A university professor did a small experiment. He sent Christmas holiday cards to people who never knew or met him in person.
The response was mind-blowing:
These strangers responded with holiday cards too. Plus, most of them did not ask about the professor’s identity.
3. HubSpot - free marketing resources
HubSpot develops software products for marketing, sales, and customer service. One clever strategy they use is that they provide tons of free resources for their audience across various topics.
People can benefit from these free guides and templates for as long as they like. There’s no expiration date for the access.
As someone who needs expert knowledge for my business… I’d probably think, “These resources are a huge help. What would I do without them?”
Because HubSpot has provided so much value, this motivates people to keep on tuning in. And the possibility of paying for their tools.
4. Backlinko - definitive guides
Awesome free resources keep people coming back for more. Now, let’s consider Brian Dean of Backlinko.
Brian Dean is an expert on SEO. People expect him to produce SEO guides. But he takes reciprocity persuasion to the next level by going above and beyond what’s expected.
You can see his readers reciprocate by sharing his guides over and over. The comments he gets also prove that.
5. Spotify - 1-month free trial
Spotify uses reciprocity by allowing its listeners to experience its ad-free music for free. Plus, they can select the songs they like.
All that’s required are their name and email address.
At the end of one month, the free service is over — unless they upgrade to premium. If not, they can still use Spotify free, but they have to endure the ads and the inability to select songs.
If you’re the type who loves listening to music all day, wouldn’t you think of upgrading?
Especially when you discover that it’ll cost you only $9.99 per month. It’s a more enticing, less painful option.
6. Dropbox - up to 16GB of free space
You’ve probably heard about Dropbox’s referral campaign — one of the best reciprocity examples.
It helped them grow to millions of users in just 18 months since their launch.
Here’s how the referral campaign worked:
Dropbox gives 500 MB of free bonus space to the referrer and referee. Both sides receive this incentive for installing Dropbox.
More space would be extremely valuable.
Newly referred Dropbox users returned the favor by sharing it with other friends.
👉Learn more: Referral Marketing: What It Is, How It Works, and Getting Started
7. Gabe Schillinger - his UpViral contest rewards
Gabe, an UpViral user, did a referral contest where he gave away a grand prize package for musicians.
That package included flying the winner to Gabe’s music studio, recording and mixing their song, shooting their music video, and spending $1000 to promote it.
But although this was a huge prize, Gabe anticipated that some people who didn’t have a lot of friends on social media may hesitate to share it.
So he offered a smaller incentive as well — a collection of 10 free beats. This incentive was achievable for everyone. Anybody who referred just 3 friends could win it.
If you want to learn more, here’s the link to Gabe’s incredible case study.
8. Disabled American Veterans - the mail with an unsolicited gift
Cialdini gives another impressive example of reciprocation in his book:
The Disabled American Veterans organization sent a simple mail, asking people for donations. This produced a response rate of only 18%.
But when their mail included a gift which were gummed, personalized address labels, their response rate increased to 35%!
9. The Regan study - Joe’s raffle tickets
This simple experiment showed how reciprocity puts you at an advantage:
Joe was selling raffle tickets to a room full of subjects. He left the room and returned with a Coke in hand — one Coke for himself, and the other for his subject.
Surprisingly, not one subject refused the Coke!
After that, the subjects also felt awkward to not buy Joe’s tickets. What’s more, they bought not just one, but two raffle tickets.
Receiving the Coke from Joe produced in them a sense of indebtedness.
10. Warby Parker - Free home try-on
Warby Parker sells sunglasses and prescription glasses online.
They have a home try-on program in which they ship 5 frames to prospects for free. This gives prospects the convenience of being able to try their products in person.
At the end of 5 days, they need to ship back the frames. If they decide to buy, from those frames, Warby Parker will send them a fresh pair!
Reciprocity and Reward Campaigns
Giveaways and contest campaigns are a great way to put reciprocity in action. The act of giving free, awesome prizes will never fail to delight people.
In fact, you can boost the effectiveness of your giveaway by offering a prize that’s focused on your business’ target audience. We discuss tips on choosing the best prize in detail in this blog post.
Another way to implement reciprocity within your giveaway is to give people points for entering, referring their friends, and sharing your campaign on social media.
Offer bigger points if they take more specific actions that benefit your business. For example, subscribing to your YouTube channel or answering your survey.
Want to create a contest or giveaway? Put reciprocity into practice and see what it can do for your business. ❤️
If you’re ready, try UpViral. UpViral helps you get quality leads and grow your business by offering rewards that encourage more referrals.
Did you gain value from this post? We hope our reciprocity examples helped!