The New Social ROI: Reciprocity of Influence

A lot of people would like to tie Social Media efforts to old school “Return on Investment”, considering profits in relation to capital invested. I would challenge that notion by offering another view.

4476928956_8a1c881e12In psychology, “Reciprocity” is described as responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. Think of it as a social expectation that people will respond to each other in similar ways; responding to gifts and kindnesses from others with similar benevolence of their own, and responding to harmful, hurtful acts from others with either indifference or some form of retaliation. And it has been shown that the possibility for reciprocal actions increases the rate of contribution, giving evidence for the importance of reciprocity in social situations [1]. There are numerous examples of these positive and negative forms of reciprocity online, many found on The Consumerist.

Let’s talk about Influence. We know that Social Influence occurs when someone’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. It takes many forms and can be seen in leadership, persuasion, and marketing. I’m not going to bore you with the fine details but there are two aspects that really apply to us here. Normative Influence is an influence to conform to the positive expectations of others. Once you begin your community you will set down some rules for what is expectable behavior. Your normative influence will encourage people to stick to those rules and further go on to help guide and assist those who might not follow or know the rules. Informational Influence is to accept information from another when there is an uncertainty due to ambiguity or disagreement. This would be you, as an “Official Voice” of the community or brand.

As a Social Media or Community Manager we should strive to make our Social Impact as positive as possible, reaching out to help and support our communities, and encouraging them to reciprocate by sharing their positive feelings and experiences with their circles of influence with the hope that their friends and followers will find their way to your communities and brands. From there it will fall to you to once again ensure that they have a great experience themselves.

Within Social Media, the real measure of ROI is the Reciprocity of Influence generated through engagement and social sharing in your communities and brands.


Image: “Social Circles of Influence – Influence occurs in small circles of influence”
Graphic produced by Bruce Dupree

1. Fehr, Ernst; and Simon Gächter (Summer 2000). “Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity”. Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (3): 159–181. doi:10.1257/jep.14.3.159. ISSN 0895-3309.

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