The Fallacy of Reciprocity

Reciprocity is good, right? I mean, you do something for me. I return the favour. Now I may be doing it out of the goodness of my heart or perhaps through the burden of obligation. Or even perhaps because I may need a favour from you in the future. But I think everyone will agree with me when I say that it forms a core part of our daily lives. The concept of reciprocity works in marketing as well. Companies provide services and products to customers with the hope that they reciprocate with purchases and spreading the buzz. But how does reciprocity fare when it comes to social media?

In this post, I shall leave aside the pseudo-social interactive paradigm that social media has created and dwell upon the professional face of these networks. For instance, Facebook is used to promote business pages. But if we leave aside the big brands, most business pages are promoted within known groups. A ‘like’ generally obligates a reciprocal ‘like’. Similarly, in LinkedIn, an endorsement or a recommendation is generally reciprocated without much thought. Another prime example is Twitter, where getting followers has become big business. The process does not require any effort. It happens at a click.

The pertinent question is why a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’ should create the need for reciprocity. Traditionally, the concept of reciprocity has been based on value. Because I value what you have done for me, I proceed to return the favour. So do the ‘likes’ and endorsements and recommendations and followers hold any value? Perhaps they did at some point. But the only thing that drives reciprocity today is the fear of losing a ‘like’ or a follower. The very ease with which reciprocity has been built into these networks has destroyed the very thing they set out to do, and that is build credibility and trust.

While the notion of reciprocity is required, social networks need to include solid features that can create credible profiles for professionals and businesses and not simply reduce them to participants in a popularity contest.

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