In this, the last of a six-part series on social commerce rules of thumb  – See parts 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 – we look at the concept of reciprocity — repaying a favor with a favor.

There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life – reciprocity. – Confucius

In social psychology, reciprocity is the act of returning a positive action with another positive action. You might think of it as returning a favor or, to follow the maxim of the Golden Rule, “do unto others.” Wikipedia states that reciprocity is so strong that a person will feel obligated to return a favor regardless of whether they like the person who originally gave it in the first place.

When someone does us a good turn, why do we feel compelled to reciprocate? Many reasons perhaps, not the least of which is that it makes us feel good. It plays on our innate sense of fairness and desire to balance the scales.

One way this concept is played out in marketing terms is through the use of free samples. Walk into any Costco or Sam’s Club and there are enough vendors peddling free food samples to fill one’s stomach! Whether we act on the impulse or not, such actions are designed to elicit a purchase response.

Social commerce has its own set of technologies that encourage reciprocity.

Group Buying

Groupon, Living Social and other group buying sites allow voucher buyers to share their purchase with friends via social sharing on Facebook, Twitter and email. In order to ensure that a desired purchase is made available, a certain number of deals have to be secured. This, too, encourages such sharing behavior.

Groupon.com

If we are excited about the purchase, it makes use feel good to share it with others. Often, sharing is incentivized by making the voucher free to the purchaser if he or she gets enough friends to buy.

Social Shopping

Group buying is a form of social shopping where sharing is a tangential element. You can still purchase a voucher without a mandate to share it. Social shopping app Givvy, on the other hand, makes sharing a core element of the platform. Users not only upload products, but are encouraged to share them with friends right off the bat.

Givvy social shopping Facebook app

Recommendations & Referrals

Referral programs allow customers to refer such things as exclusive deals, membership invitations and special discounts to friends. This action may be accompanied by a reward to the customer for doing so.

When searching for brands that use customer referral within the context of social commerce, I found New York-based clothing designer Steven Alan Collection’s Facebook page, which utilizes ShopIgniter’s social promotions engine, to reward customers with points for purchases as well as for sharing the page with friends. In the case of Steven Alan, points equate to dollars, but could be other things, such as VIP status.

Steven Alan Collection Facebook page

Conclusion

Considering that this is the holiday season, perhaps its apropos that we conclude this series with a focus on reciprocity. After all, it is a time for giving and sharing. Social commerce – the business of helping people connect where they buy and buy where they connect – presents ample opportunities for brands to take advantage (in a good way, of course) this innate human behavior.