What Is Your Content Giving?

The Rule of Reciprocity may predicate social marketing success

by Jason Falls |

The rule of reciprocation says, essentially, you must not take without giving in return. We are programmed as human beings to know this. “There’s not a single human culture that fails to train its members in this rule,” psychologist Robert Cialdini told NPR in November. Alix Spiegel’s story then even discussed experiments with tipping and charities by distributing return address labels that showed when a gift is included in the transaction, the amount of tips, purchases or donations go up.

This is perhaps the psychology at play in social media. Companies and brands that give — be it content, gifts, prizes or perhaps discounts — tend to see some measure of return. Those that give generously, or in a way that illustrates the giving more prominently, are more likely to see greater returns.

Companies and brands that give tend to see some measure of return

But the rule of reciprocation also helps to identify what brands may be doing wrong with social media marketing as well. Not seeing enough, or any, return on your social efforts? Ask yourself, “What is it that I’m giving?”

More often than not, if you’re honest, you’ll determine that you are “giving” product sales pitches, advertisements masked as Wall Posts and little else. When you turn the corner from “giving your brand” to “the giving of your brand”, then you’ll see a difference in reaction.

During an analysis of the social content of several major brands last year, I found two very similar posts on Facebook and Google+ from Dunkin’ Donuts and Coca-Cola. Dunkin’ Donuts posted a picture of a cup of its coffee with the caption, “Doesn’t this make you smile?”

Coca-Cola, just minutes later, posted a product shot as well — a full bottle of Coke sitting on the dock of a bay at sunrise. The caption, though, was different in a subtle way, but worlds apart in meaning. Its caption? “What makes you smile today?”

Audience-centric (dare I say, “giving”) content is not hard to conjure; marketers just don’t typically think that way.

The next time you post something on your social networks, draft a blog post or even develop the content for a webinar or white paper, analyze the content and ask of it, “What am I giving here?”


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).