Here’s what traditional advertisers and brands don’t seem to understand: social media isn’t about pushing out messages or distributing amazing branded content or even about innovation in technology. It’s about human behavior. It’s about creating efficiencies in, and scaling, basic human behavior. Or, as Ted Rubin so aptly says, “Please, please remember… Social media is NOT about tools or technology, but about PEOPLE.”
To paraphrase “The Thank You Economy”, it’s a big world out there, but social media makes it a small town. And, you better mind your manners.
I named my blog “Reciprocity Theory” because it keeps me focused on the human intuition that powers social media: RECIPROCITY.
People inherently want to do business with people (and companies) that they enjoy doing business with. If you’re going to spend the vast majority of your time at work, don’t you want to spend that time with people you connect with? Same goes for consumers. They want to buy products and services from companies that they connect with – companies that value their customers and show it. Social media empowers brands to connect with their customers in a scalable, yet personal way.
Zappos is the pinnacle of reciprocity. They have built a billion dollar company by developing a culture focused on delivering happiness. They deliver happiness to their customers, sure. But, they deliver happiness to their employees and partners first. Every year, every employee and vendor gives their honest assessment of the company, and all those perspectives – good and bad – get published publicly in their culture book. The company truly listens to, and cares about, its people and partners, and that culture of caring – of delivering happiness – trickles down to Zappos’ customers. It’s a reciprocal effect of epic proportions. (Side note: if every business and marketing professional read Tony Hsieh‘s book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose”, the world would be a better place…honestly).
I always say that small to mid-size companies are better structured than large companies to take full advantage of social media’s power. That’s because social is a real-time medium, and practicing social reciprocity means trusting and empowering your team to make decisions in the customers’ best interests, in real-time. That starts in the c-suite. It starts with the company’s visionary. Only s/he can decide to reinvent the company’s culture and make customer caring and innovation a priority, and hold his/her team accountable for developing that culture. That’s easier to do for the owner of a local coffee shop or president of a privately owned, boutique hotel group than it is for the CEO of a publicly owned, Fortune 500 company. But, that shouldn’t stop the latter from trying! Because the effects of social reciprocity are well worth the efforts.
I discussed the ROI and opportunities presented by participating in social media here. Ultimately it comes down to what Ted Rubin likes to call ROR (“Return on Relationship”). ”Relationships ARE the new currency”, says Rubin – “honor them, invest in them, & reap the benefits!”
Social media isn’t so much an investment in money, as it is in time and relationships. Care about your customers. Develop a corporate culture that cares about its customers. Then, use social media to practice social reciprocity.
- 6 ways to measure your social media results (holykaw.alltop.com)
- Social Media @Work convention at Hilton Harrisburg aims to educate businesses on the power of social media (pennlive.com)
- 5 Tips to Great Social Media Customer Service (us.cision.com)
- Social Media Guru: What to do and what NOT to do (thecustomercollective.com)
rec.i.proc.i.ty / [res-uh-pros-i-tee] / n.
mutual dependence, action or influence
Newton’s Third Law of Physics
I constantly contextualize and visualize information; it makes digesting that information easier. Thus, I often think of social media in the context of Newton’s Third Law of Physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). And, I refer back to this image of two ice skaters pushing against each other.
So long as the force that each skater is acting upon the other is equal, they maintain a balanced relationship. But, as soon as the force of one exceeds the other, the relationship is thrown off balance. In other words, the skaters’ relationship is mutually dependent, or, reciprocal.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the core motivators that drive participation and action in social media. What is influence, really, and why the desire to become an influencer? What drives a piece of information or content (the two being synonymous on the social web) to go viral? And, how can a brand leverage social media to reach its audience and see a real ROI?
This notion of social reciprocity has struck a cord with me, leading to the development of what I call the Reciprocity Theory.
The Reciprocity Theory
At its core, the Reciprocity Theory believes that social motivation is based on each person’s desire to
- be recognized as an individual, and
- belong to a community
It’s the yin and yang of the social being. Why do we join a social network like Facebook or Foursquare? To be part of a community – even if that community is just connecting online with your offline friends. Why do we share content on Twitter and YouTube? To share in common interests and knowledge. Of course, as I was thinking about this, I had to visualize it, so I drew a venn diagram:
Taking a step back, I immediately thought: here’s the root of influence – at the intersection between the individual and the community. Influence is earned by being a valued member of the community. And, how does one become a valued member of the community? I backed into this answer…
The Valued Community Member
In their study “Content- What Drives Consumption?”, AOL concluded that audiences want valued original content. And, the equation for valued original content is:
Unique Content + Quality (trusted, fresh, relevant, authentic) Content = Valued Original Content
Thus, in order to be recognized as a valued community member, an individual must produce or curate valued original content. Provide value to the community, and your influence will grow. It’s reciprocal.
And, here lies the essence of the Reciprocity Theory. Whatever you give to a community, you earn in return. It’s reciprocal and, potentially, infinite – as long as you continue to provide value to the community. So, the reciprocity venn diagram became an infinity loop of sorts.
Simple enough, right?
But, what about brands?
Looking back at the reciprocity venn diagram, another thought occurred to me: where does a brand fit into this? How does a brand reach their target audience? If a brand interjects itself with traditional, antiquated messaging and advertising, then it will throw off the balance and the individual and community will retract. The individual and the community will continue their relationship, but the brand won’t be a part of it.
So, how can a brand earn a seat in the conversation in a world where the individual wields more power than the brand? The brand must do exactly that: earn it – by respecting the relationship and becoming a valued community member.
In my next post, I’ll be discussing how a brand can become a valued community member and start to see a real ROI for its participation. If you’re interested, please follow me on Twitter for updates.
- Practice Social RECIPROCITY, not Social MEDIA (reciprocitytheory.com)
- Podcast – An Introduction To Social Media Marketing (simplybusiness.co.uk)
- The Myth Of Reciprocity And The Social Life Of Brands (twistimage.com)
- Exposure to Social Media Linked with Changes in Sales and Brand Perception (ogilvypr.com)
- 3 Layers of Social Media Connections (brasstackthinking.com)
David Fossas began his career in the movie business, working at International Creative Management, Endeavor Agency (now WME Entertainment) and Intrepid Pictures. He left traditional media for social media and joined Big Fuel Communications in 2010 where he focused on content strategy, engagement and emerging platforms. He's currently Senior Manager, Interactive at WeissComm Group, focusing on engagement and innovation.
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