The concept of eventual reciprocity has been incredibly beneficial in my journey of building a media business. Any business, really. It suggests that if you give without expecting anything in return, people will feel compelled to reciprocate over time. It draws its power from the fact that nobody wants to owe someone else for longer than necessary. If you constantly provide something valuable to someone, they will feel compelled to give back — eventually.
Hence the term eventual reciprocity.
And this principle is particularly useful for those using social media to grow their businesses. Think about it this way: if you consistently share valuable information online and contribute meaningfully to conversations that people care about, the individuals involved will eventually feel indebted to you. Subconsciously. But noticeably. This feeling prompts them to help you out somehow, creating an active desire to even things out.
Experience this article as a podcast, a YouTube show, or as a newsletter:
Practicing this at scale by sharing your knowledge freely can lead not only the people you interact with but also larger groups observing these interactions, appreciating your generosity and selflessness. They may then wish to support you back in various ways – purchasing your products or services, introducing potential partners or collaborators, promoting your work within their circles or advocating for your brand among their peers.
This is all based on trust — and trust is slowly built but quickly lost. So be careful with how you nudge people to compensate you. The biggest beginner mistake is the premature Call to Action. Asking for some kind of return immediately upon sharing something helpful often will undermine the reputation-building process inherent in eventual reciprocity. People won’t feel obligated if they don’t trust you. Sure, you might get a purchase or a conversion, but people see this as a mere transaction. There is no relational value in such an exchange.
If you can afford it, look at serving your community as a long-term bet. Instead of focusing solely on immediate compensation for work done today like most freelancers do (since exposure doesn’t pay bills), consider making long-term investments into community relationships as well. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer your services and products. It just means that you don’t have to peddle them at every single opportunity.
In my own experience balancing paid and free offerings has worked well; while I sell books and courses amongst other things which require payment for access, I also freely share insights through the newsletter, the podcast, and on social media every week. Every day, in fact. The value people find from engaging with my free content often leads them towards considering my paid offerings when they’re ready. And that can take weeks, months, or years.
I often get emails or Twitter DMs from people who have been followers for years and felt that it’s now time for them to pay me back for all the insights I have so freely put in their path. The key here isn’t immediately chasing returns but patiently waiting until someone really wants to support me due to all they’ve received from me previously — a prime example of eventual reciprocity at play!
This approach becomes increasingly effective as your audience grows; more individuals witnessing acts of kindness means more potential reciprocal actions down the line! Finding the balance between giving away valuable knowledge and revealing everything is crucial though — keep some trade secrets close that could be monetized later on by those who recognize how much better they’d implement these ideas with professional assistance.
Take my Twitter Teardowns, as an example. You’ll find all kinds of Twitter advice between my books, my course, and my constant barrage of Twitter profile optimization tweets. If you spend a few days digging through all my prior work, you could probably find all the insights you need. Well, that, or you can spend $100 to make me record a 15+ minute video where I apply the most fitting of these concepts directly to your profile. The knowledge is all out there, for free. My expertise in applying it has a price. This is important.
Never completely forego getting paid clients while practicing this strategy; since eventual reciprocity might take weeks or years before materializing into meaningful opportunities. You got to make money somehow! It’s a unique balance to strike for every entrepreneur. Avoid thinking transactionally. That’s the best framework to be able to spot long-term investment opportunities. There’s a psychology in humans that makes eventual reciprocity just unavoidable. We want to get even. Give lots, and then allow your followers to give back.
They will. Eventually.