Reciprocity on Social Media
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Reciprocity is a powerful force in social psychology. In this blog post we take a close look at how reciprocity plays a role on social media.

One of the most powerful forces in social psychology is reciprocity. Reciprocity happens when someone does something for us, we feel a sense of duty to do something back. Reciprocity works because it has two key elements. First, it entails a clear action, like a favor or a gift. Second, it involves a sense of fairness: the action is typically fair or equal, or is seen as such to both parties. 

The principle of reciprocity is deeply embedded in our society. If someone gives you a gift, you feel compelled to give them one in return. When someone does you a favor, you feel obligated to do them one in return. People reciprocate in all kinds of relationships: kindnesses–big or small–between friends, classmates, lovers, siblings, coworkers, and more.

A good example of reciprocity would be the Dwight’s owed favor scene from The Office. 

Dwight’s owed favor

Dwight does a small favor for everyone. He comes in with Bagels for everyone, and to get a favor in return. He says “You owe me one.” 

Sometimes people’s generous acts can be viewed as “you owe me one.” 

Andy eats the bagel Dwight brought in and now wants to return the favor by doing something nice for Dwight. He feels a sense of obligation to return the favor of Dwight bringing in bagels, so he polished Dwight’s suitcase. 

Andy says, “you do me a favor. Wham. Favor returned.”

This is reciprocity. 

Reciprocity can also be viewed as tit-for-tat, meaning you do something for me, then I do something for you. 

The scene continues with them exchanging favors with each other because at the end of the day Dwight wants a favor from everybody down the line. Reciprocity can be funny when it happens in this way.  

This isn’t the only way reciprocity happens. Reciprocity happens online all the time. 

Reciprocity on Social Media 

Reciprocity is the norm on social media platforms. If someone follows you on social media, you feel an obligation to follow them back. If they like or comment on one of your posts, you feel obligated to comment back. You feel that if you don’t reciprocate, you’re not doing something that is fair. Therefore, people feel compelled to reciprocate to keep the dialogue going.

How Does Reciprocity Work on Social Media?

Favoring people on Facebook allows for reciprocity on the platform. Similar to birthday greetings, Facebook allows users to privately compliment someone. You can use a thumbs up or a heart in a comment to bestow kindness upon a friend.

For example, you can comment, “OMG you look so beautiful today!” This comment can be seen by both the friend and the person to whom you are giving the compliment. In return, you should receive a similar comment.

Alternatively, you can give a “like” to someone, telling others that you appreciate them as a person. These two actions of favor and liking occur in an environment of equality. This means that when you give a status update or share a post, you expect it to be publicly visible and visible to everyone.

On Medium reciprocity can happen when one person claps for your work and then you turn around and clap for their work. 

On Instagram, people use hashtags to communicate they will return the favor. The hashtags might be #l4l or #f4f. 

Meaning “like for like,” or “follow for follow.”

But follow for follow tactics online can result in some people cheating the social norm.

Reciprocity Strategies for Social Media

To incentivize reciprocity, use “payback” posts or other social posts with links that provide a prompt for interaction. Include a micro-payment in the form of a small commission to your followers for any action.

Become the Content

Another powerful way to encourage reciprocity is to create content that can be shared. Not only does this make it easy for followers to interact with you and your brand, but it creates a sense of reciprocity as people engage with your content.

Get Others to Share

Another way to get people to share content is to give something away. Give away an item with a clever or compelling message that attracts interest, and ask your followers to share it on social media.

Wannabe Influencers Cheat

I want to make one thing clear before I dive into how some influencers cheat. We are aware of reciprocity and the idea of exchanging a favor for a favor. But no one has to follow you back on like your post back. Reciprocity on social media platforms can be viewed as cheap favors. And there is no distinction between people who follow you because they like your content and people following you because they want you to follow back. It’s a game. 

Some people will always give to get in return like Dwight. The same way Dwight had a plan to get favor some people have a plan to get more followers online. It’s a dirty plan but most people use it. 

The plan they have is to use follow for follow and when other people follow then they unfollow.

How does this look?

Someone will follow you then wait for you to follow them back, after you’ve followed them they will wait a couple more days then unfollow you. 

The goal of someone using this tactic is to make them look more popular online than they really are. This is why follower count is a poor signal of someone’s online status. People go out there to get followers, and most of the time the followers don’t interact with the person at all. 

I’m telling you about this because I want you to know. You don’t have to cheat to get people to follow you. Accept the fact that growing an online presence doesn’t happen overnight. It might take a while for people to follow you. 

And if you see people who follow you then unfollow you. Reciprocate. Tell them to keep that same energy and unfollow them because those who use that trick don’t win in the long run.

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