We all like to do nice things for people that do nice things for us.
…and there’s a reason for that.
People are both hardwired genetically and taught by others growing up to be nice and helpful. After all—the species would not have survived if we didn’t all work together!
While reciprocating is something that occurs naturally, it can also be leveraged for business reasons.
This mutually beneficial relationship in business is called the Reciprocity Principle.
What Is the Reciprocity Principle?
Essentially, the Reciprocity Principle for business is the concept that people will want to reciprocate when they are helped out by others—even if the entity that is helping them is a business.
You can really think of the Reciprocity Principle from a business standpoint as serving instead of selling. When a lot of people start out in business, they focus a lot on selling.
While this makes them money in the short-term, the lack of focus on building relationships hurts them in the long-term.
To really build a tribe of loyal followers, you need to approach the relationship first from a point of how you can best help your audience.
After you've done that for long enough and have that relationship in place, they'll feel much more ok with it when you start trying to capture value in return because they know that you really care about them and want to provide value.
Why Does the Reciprocity Principle Work?
Have you ever gotten a “free” gift or sample from a business? How did you feel when you received it?
That feeling of wanting to reciprocate when you get something “free” is exactly how the Reciprocity Principle works.
Once a “free” item is accepted, the receiver will often feel inspired to give back in some way if they found that item to be of value. This feeling leads to them taking action—whether this means filling out a survey, spreading the message a business wants to communicate or paying for a product or service.
With a better understanding of what the Reciprocity Principle is, let’s take a look at how this principle is used by businesses to grow their business and influence.
The Reciprocity Principle for Business
Now that you have a better understanding of what the reciprocity principle is, let’s take a look at how YOU can take advantage of this principle to grow your business.
Free Things in Exchange for Information
This is honestly one of the most advantageous uses of the Reciprocity Principle.
Here’s the thing—people really like “free” things…even when it technically isn’t “free.” Because of this, they are often willing to exchange things for the “free” item—as long as it isn’t money.
When people think about the costs of goods and services, they generally think of it in terms of cash money.
Business owners understand that this isn’t always the case.
Consider someone that needs a survey completed. They may offer a “free gift” in exchange for the completion of the survey. Obviously, this gift isn’t really “free,” as it costs time and information.
…and this information is extremely useful for businesses!
Let’s say a business is collecting data on their customers. They may offer things for “free,” in exchange for that data.
Companies will also often offer a “free gift” in exchange for an address, email address, phone number and so on. They understand that—while they aren’t making money upfront—they can make money in the long run while also giving something to people that helps them.
“Free” products and services also open up the opportunity for advertising. You’ll often see this in local magazines and—of course—the radio.
Now, consider apps like Facebook. Are they free? Kind of. They are free of financial costs.
But, Facebook isn’t really free.
Facebook collects data and uses that data to help advertisers to run ads on their platform. So, while a user may not pay for anything directly with Facebook, they are agreeing to give away their data and view ads to use the platform.
Bigger companies—especially tech companies—understand that some things are more valuable than direct financial transactions.
To view this in terms of the reciprocity principal, many people are willing to give their information or time away in exchange for a product or service.
They understand that Facebook is doing them a solid by allowing them to reach their friends and family and follow entertainers they enjoy by using their platform. Because of this, they are willing to give some of their data away and view some ads.
While this form of reciprocity may not seem as altruistic, it's still reciprocity nonetheless.
Free Things Pique the Interest of Customers
Have you ever been to a grocery store and seen someone giving out samples?
Companies understand that by giving away a “free” sample, they are able to peak the interest of customers. This, in turn, puts the idea in the customer’s head that they may want that product or service.
Customers are also thankful when they receive free things, which makes them more likely to purchase from a company again in the future.
Many companies are also using this concept with their “cafés” and “work centers.”
Capital One, State Farm and other companies are offering “free” Wi-Fi and workspaces—and they don’t even force you to sign up!
Instead, they rely on customers seeing their companies as helpful and wanting to reciprocate and give their services a try. It becomes a win-win!
Examples of “Free” Items
Now that you better understand the concept of the Reciprocity Principle, let’s look at some examples of “free” items that you can consider giving away:
Free samples are pretty common—and not just in the grocery store.
Many business owners will offer free webinars, consultations and more. This allows the customer to see what their services look like.
They also may offer a limited version of their product. If the customer likes it, they can always upgrade for more services!
For a lot of information products, you’ll see “free gifts.” This will often include a report, worksheet or other items that provide value.
While these are based off of providing the customer value, they are also sales tools. They leave the customer in a place where they may feel the urge to reciprocate and check out the full product—especially if they enjoyed the gift.
A lot of content creators rely on the generosity of their viewers, listeners and readers.
Actually, this is the whole basis for companies like Patreon!
If a content provider provides good enough content, many fans will want to support them by either pledging money, paying for a membership or buying their products or services.
Grow Your Business With The Reciprocity Principle
People naturally like to help those that help them.
If you approach business from a standpoint of how you can provide your customers value and help them in as many ways as possible, they'll show their gratitude for you in several ways.
So, instead of focusing on what you can get from other people, focus first on how you can serve people in the best way possible.
Once you've established a relationship of trust and value, people will be much more open to you capturing that value in return.
And you'll feel much better about your business!
It's truly a win-win for everyone.