The Elements of Influential PR: Reciprocity

Welcome to the sixth in a series of 6 pieces on the topic of influence and how public relations allows you to generate influence among your customers, your colleagues, and the world at large. The series is based off the work done by ASU Professor Emeritus of Psychology Robert Cialdini, whose book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is required reading for many marketers. In his book, Cialdini posits that there are 6 methods or principles on which influence is based:

  1. Scarcity
  2. Authority
  3. Consistency
  4. Social Proof
  5. Liking
  6. Reciprocity

Today, we’ll look at reciprocity, which is actually one of the most pedestrian forms of influence, but still incredibly effective. Reciprocity is simple to understand: I give you something, and unless you’re a sociopath or from a totally different culture with different norms, I create in you a social obligation to reciprocate in some fashion for my gift. Anyone who’s been at an airport, bus station, or train station for any amount of time has seen reciprocity in action; a traveler accepts a small gift like a paper flower from a busker and 10 minutes later is weighed down with five newly-purchased religious texts.

Using public relations to power a reciprocity program is equally mundane but effective. Determine what you’re going to give away, and then run a standard advertising and public relations program to promote the giveaway. Few things in public relations are so straightforward. Invest time in highlighting the free gift you’re giving away with great public relations, and use that as part of the process to convert people from casual passersby to fully invested customers.

In the wrap-up for this series, we’ll look at some of the ethical and moral implications of influence-building, as they are many and in some cases, quite serious.

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