We’re wired to repay favors
When social scientist Randy Garner sent out a group of surveys, he attached either:
- A handwritten sticky note, attached to a cover letter, asking people to complete the survey
- A similar handwritten message on the cover letter itself
- The cover letter alone with no handwritten request
- Nearly three-quarters of people who received the survey with the sticky note filled out the survey and returned it.
- Fewer than half of those who received the handwritten note on the cover letter completed the task.
- A little more than one-third of those who received the cover letter alone complied.
When Garner added his initials and “Thank you!” to the handwritten note, the response rate shot up even higher, report Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini, the authors of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.
Made to stick
Call it the Reciprocity Rule: Our audience members feel obligated to return favors we perform for them — even when that favor is just a thank you note.
It’s the human condition to reciprocate.
“We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided for us,” Cialdini writes. “If a woman does us a favor, we should do her one in return. If a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own. If a couple invites us to a party, we should be sure to invite them to one of ours.”
Reciprocity is the heart of content marketing: Give your audience members a lot of value (and position your organization as the expert in the field), and people are more likely to want to do business with you.
We also see reciprocity in social media: Your audience members are more likely to retweet you if you retweet them first, link to you if you’ve linked to them, like you if you deliver a lot of value.
Just say thanks.
In another study reported in Yes!, this one by Wharton’s Adam Grant and Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino, participants gave someone feedback on a cover letter. After they sent their comments in, participants received a request from the same author to review another cover letter.
- One group received the request only.
- The other group received the request with the words, “Thank you so much! I am really grateful.”
The result: The expression of gratitude more than doubled the response rate.
In a follow-up study, Grant and Gino found that when participants received a note of thanks and gratitude from the original cover letter writer, they were more likely to repeat the favor for a different writer.
Finally, Grant and Gino looked into how expressions of gratitude would affect employee motivation. They performed this study in a fundraising call center, because, they said, fundraising is often a thankless job filled with rejection.
For this study, the director of annual giving visited the call center and told the fundraisers, “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.”
Employees who’d received the thanks made 50% more calls in the week following the director’s visit. Those who didn’t get visited and thanked made the same number of calls.
Power up reciprocity.
Make reciprocity more effective by making your gift or favor more:
- Significant. When waiters gave diners two mints after their meals, tips increased from 3.3% to more than 14%. Why? “Two seemed significant, where one seemed pro forma,” write the authors of Yes!
- Unexpected. The surprise of the director showing up to thank fundraisers probably contributed to the visit’s success. If she’s hanging out on a daily basis, it probably wouldn’t be as successful.
- Personalized. Garner’s hand-written “Thank you!” with his initials increased response among those who received his survey to fill out. The reason: Personalization is more persuasive.
How can you use the Rule of Reciprocity
in your own communications and campaigns?
Sources: Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Free Press, 2008
A. M., Grant and F. Gino, “A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 2010, pp. 946-955
Noah Goldstein, “How to Increase Your Business by Showing Your Appreciation,” Inside Influence Report, Oct. 12, 2010