How Giveaways and Incentives Work - The Principle of Reciprocation

Last Update: February 03, 2018

I'm going to preface by saying go buy this book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini. It's around $10 and it will change your entire outlook on marketing. Not only will you be able to more easily drive sales, but you'll effectively gain an understanding of how the average person's mind works during the buying process.

If you don't want to buy that book for whatever reason, well, I'm going to write 6 posts here on WA that cover the 6 different marketing principles you learn in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. My posts will not be ANYWHERE NEAR as in depth as the book, nor will you learn as much, but you will learn the basics which is what I'm going for.

This is number 1/6 covering the principle of reciprocation, why it works, and how to use it.

What is the principle of reciprocation?

This can be summed up in a sentence. The principal of reciprocation is founded on the basis that if you do something for someone they will be keen to do something in return.

It might sound crazy, but it works - and well.

Let's compare these 2 examples; think about them and consider which one you prefer. For reasons, let's just assume both of these examples post the same information, information that you are interested in.

A.) "Website A" splashes a popup on your screen that says "Sign up for our newsletter!" followed up a field to input your name and email. That's it. Nothing else.

B.) "Website B" gives you a similar popup, but it says "sign up for our newsletter and get access to our free ebook!" followed by the same fields for name and email.

So, which one? If you're leaning towards "website B" then you are definitely in the majority.

Let's compare 2 more hypothetical websites. Both of these hypothetical websites offer "training" for whatever your imagination feels like imagining.

A.) "Website A" offers NO free trail and limits the amount of information you can see without paying right away.

B.) "Website B" offers a free trial which allows you to check things out, and even gives you some completely free bonuses on top of it.

I bet it's website B that's piquing your interest again, right? Again, you're in the majority and that's probably how you wound up here at WA!

Now, those 2 examples are very broad, but they help to illustrate just how the principal of reciprocation works.

Why do giveaways and incentives work?

Simple. Reciprocation. You're giving your readers something, or presenting the chance to win something. Because of this, they will be more keen to give you something back; aka buy something from your site, sign up to your email list, like your social media channels, or whatever your goal is; maybe all of the above.

Chances are, if you offer absolutely no incentive then fewer people are going to do what you want them to. You won't get as many likes as you want, not as many people will sign up for your newsletters and fewer people will buy from you.

This is a fact.

Think about it, would you help your hypothetical friend Billy move if he didn't offer to supply beer and pizza? Probably not - if you do, you're a good person. But, because Billy is going to supply beer and pizza for some help moving couches and a TV, you're much more keen on reciprocating.

See what I'm saying here? You're helping Billy because he's using the principal of reciprocation, even if he doesn't know it! In fact, you almost feel obligated to help because Billy is going out of his way to buy beer and pizza, right? If you don't like beer and pizza, replace that with something you do like :)

How to use the principle of reciprocation

The readers on your website are really no different than you are on Billy's moving day. If you do something for them, like give them a free ebook, offer giveaways, or any number of other options, they will feel almost obligated to do something in return. Some won't, just like some people would turn down Billy's beer and pizza, but more will say "yes" than would have without the incentive.

Your incentive doesn't have to be anything crazy, either.

Right now, I'm running a giveaway for a $50 product. In the first 5 days of that contest its already received over 4500 entries, given my Facebook page another ~50 likes, and added ~100 people to my email list. Not to mention the sales that have come as a direct result of people sharing my giveaway is already enough to offset the cost of the item!

Another idea is giving away a free ebook that's related to the content on your site. This works especially well if you're trying to drive email subs.

Whatever your incentive is, it will be better than no incentive at all!


The principle of reciprocation is a very simple concept that often gets overlooked by newbie and even veteran marketers alike. However, it's one of the easiest ways to drive sales, gain leads, and ultimately make money.

The old adage "it takes money to make money" is most definitely at play here. Just like investing into WA's training, you're going to have to invest into your business as well; especially if you want it to grow.

I'm not saying you should go out and start running competitions until your wallet catches fire, but there will come a time when you absolutely must start doing things like giveaways and growing your email list. That time comes up at different points for everyone depending on the size of your site and the popularity of your niche; just don't miss it!

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VioletLight Premium
Hiya bthiel,

Thank you for your fab tutorial, I noticed it was posted a while ago, complete it and if so where is the rest pls? I'm going to look for the book you referenced and hope it's not too difficult to understand. Krs Caroline
sheikave Premium
So, in short, we reward them when they do something to our advantage. A kind of reinforcement for taking specific actions.
bthiel Premium
Basically, yep! It's effectively positive reinforcement and building trust at the same time. However, the principle of reciprocation works best when implemented before any real actions are taken and then used as an incentive to take action.

Say you want someone to sign up for your email list; if you just throw an email capture box in your sidebar and leave it, chances are no one is going to sign up. BUT, if you offer a free ebook, or a chance to enter into a competition as a sign-up incentive, the percentage of people who will take action increases exponentially.

An awesome example of the principle of reciprocation working great is how it's used here at WA. Before anyone has to pay a penny they're given access to the starter account, free hosting for a couple of sites, and the other bonuses that come with the free account. This builds trust and incentivizes people to sign up for premium. You can almost guarantee that if the starter level account didn't exist then fewer people would pull the trigger on premium.
mauricejr1 Premium
Psychology at its finest!