How to Use Robert Cialdini’s Reciprocity Principle in your Content Marketing

Have you ever wished there was an instruction book on persuasion?

It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

A step-by-step guide to influence would help you accomplish quite a bit for your business, wouldn’t it?

I’ve got good news. There is such a book.

It’s called “Influence: Science and Practice” by Robert Cialdini. This is THE book on influence. In the book Cialdini outlines six principles of persuasion that govern the way we are influenced. He even gives examples of how they work in the real world.

If you haven’t read the book already, you totally need to buy it. Now. I’ll wait.

Okay, good.

The six principles of influence are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Social proof
  • Consistency
  • Authority
  • Liking

These six principles explain the different aspects of persuasion and influence.

So how does this apply to content marketing?

Well, content marketing is designed to influence prospects to become paying customers. That means that if you apply Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion to your content marketing, you will have more success over time.

In this series of posts, I’m going to dissect each principle and show you how you can integrate these principles into your content marketing strategy.

Today, I’m starting with Cialdini’s Reciprocity Principle.

Read on…


Robert Cialdini’s Reciprocity Principle

You’ve actually seen this one in action many times. This principle appeals to the human need to repay something that is done for them. When someone does something nice for you, it makes you want to do something nice in return, doesn’t it? Reciprocity is a powerful motivator. That’s why it’s a great way to build influence with others.

Cialdini outlines an experiment using attendants of an art appreciation event. Some of the attendees were given a soft drink while others were not. Later, each attendee was asked to purchase raffle tickets. The attendees who were given the soft drink bought twice as many raffle tickets as those who were not offered the drink.

Here’s the thing, if you want to build influence, you have to offer value. The amount of influence you have is tied to the amount of value you provide. Simply put, building influence means being valuable.

This is one of the fundamental reasons why content marketing is so effective. Content marketing is a way to provide value to your audience without them having to pay for it. It’s a perfect example of Cialdini’s Reciprocity Principle.

So what does this mean?

It means you need to create high-quality content that provides as much value as possible. Whenever you’re creating a piece of content, you need to think about the benefit you want to provide to the reader. How will they be better off after having read it?

Remember, the more valuable your content is, the more influence you will build.

In this next section, I’ll discuss some of the types of content you can create to provide value to your audience.


The Blog Post to End All Blog Posts

Blogging is one of the easiest and most effective ways to share your knowledge. When you consistently publish helpful blog posts, you are continually providing awesome value to your readers.

Here’s the thing: it’s not about just writing and publishing blog posts. It’s about making sure your blog posts are as helpful as possible. You want to give tons of great value in your blog posts because this will keep your readers coming back for more.

That’s why you need epic blog posts.

There’s a difference between regular blog posts and epic ones. Epic blog posts are post that are at least 2,000 words or more. They provide a more comprehensive guide on a particular subject.

The great thing about epic blog posts is that they get shared more frequently. Makes sense, right? If you read a particularly helpful piece of content, then you’re going to want to share it with others.

When you write these posts, make sure you include actionable advice that will be easy for the reader to put into action. You also want to make sure that your post is easy to understand. People won’t read it if they have to work to comprehend it.


“Cheat” Isn’t a Dirty Word

How much would your readers benefit from a step-by-step list that tells them exactly how to perform a particular task? Chances are, they would probably benefit quite a bit, right? This is especially true if there aren’t any cheat sheets that exist in your industry.

Try creating a cheat sheet that makes life easier for your readers. Cheat sheets are an easy way to provide information for your audience. The reason they’re so great is because you can give lots of great advice in a way that is easy to digest.

After you create your cheat sheet, you can offer it in various places on your website. You can link to it in blog posts that discuss the subject your cheat sheet is made for. You can even offer it on your home page. If you need subscribers - and I’m sure you do - you can offer to give it to your readers in exchange for their email addresses.


The Ultimate Piece of Content

Everyone loves ebooks, don’t they? They’re a great way to give a more complete guide to your readers. Whereas a blog post or cheat sheet can deliver actionable advice in bite-sized chunks, an ebook can cover more aspects of a particular subject.

Ebooks are a great way to gives tons of value to your audience. They may take longer to create, but they’re worth it. When you write an ebook, you have an excellent piece of content that you can use as a bribe to get your reader’s email and other contact information.

A great example of this is Hubspot. They have an entire knowledge center full of ebooks on marketing. I’ve downloaded plenty of them because they give a lot of great information. I had no problem giving them my email address because they gave me such huge value in return.

Ebooks are a great way to generate more leads and gain more subscribers.


Smile For the Camera

Video, as well as other forms of visual content is becoming a more popular way to reach one’s audience. If you create educational and entertaining videos that provide value to your viewers, you will gain more engagement on your website.

Video gives you an easier way to explain subjects that are more complex. Visual content is easier for the human brain to digest, which is why it’s more effective.

Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday is a great series is a great example of how to use visual content. Through these videos, Fishkin educates his viewers about search engine optimization (SEO).

Creating video isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You don’t need a high-tech film crew to record quality video. There are many people who just use their phones. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Filming short videos can help you create more of a connection with your audience. Why? Because they can actually see and hear you!

Try creating video content. Here’s some tips.


Let Them Hear You!

If video isn’t really your thing, you might get more of a benefit from podcasting. Have you ever wished you could have your own radio show/ Well, now you can…kinda. Podcasting is a great way to share useful content.

Depending on the type of content you create, podcasting can actually be more effective than video or blogging. This is because podcasts tend to be easier to consume.

Here’s the thing: when you’re reading a blog post or watching a video, you have to devote all of your attention to it. The great thing about podcasts is that your audience can consume it while going about their everyday lives. They can listen to you while they’re driving, or doing their chores.

Podcasting has become increasingly popular because of how easy it is to consume it. It’s not difficult to start a podcast if you follow the right steps.


Creating Useful Content

Creating content is great, but it’s a waste of time if it isn’t useful. Not only do you need to consistently produce content, it also needs to provide actual value to those who would consume it. This next section will give you some actionable advice that will show you how to make your content as useful as possible.


Educate, Inform, or Entertain

Whenever you create a piece of content, the first question you should ask yourself is this: “what is the reader going to get out of this?”

This is important because nobody is going to read or share your content if it doesn’t provide an actual benefit to them. Remember, everyone is self interested. They’re not going to read your stuff just because they love you so much. They’re going to read your content because it benefits them.

Great content informs, educates, or entertains. If the piece of content that you’re creating doesn’t do at least one of those things, you might want to reconsider creating it.

Cialdini’s Reciprocity Principle will only work in your content marketing if you’re actually providing something that will make your reader desire to reciprocate.


Don’t Make it Hard for the Reader

This part is incredibly important. Nowadays, people aren’t going to spend time on your content if they have to work to understand it.

When someone comes across your content, they aren’t going to just start reading it. They are going to scan it first. If it’s something that interests them, then they will read it, so you need to make sure it’s easy to scan your content. Jeff Goins, writer and entrepreneur has a great article on writing scannable content.

Here are a few of the tips he gives:

  • Use bullet points - They make it easier for the reader to see your key points.
  • Use subheads - This helps you break your content into easier-to-digest chunks.
  • Use shorter paragraphs - 2 to 3 sentences per paragraph should work fine.

The easier it is to consume your content, the more likely your reader will read and share it.


Make it Actionable

If someone is reading your content, chances are it’s because they want to learn something. They might have a problem that they’re trying to solve. They may have a goal that they wish to accomplish.

Your content needs to help them get where they want to be.

That’s why your content needs to be actionable. It needs to tell them what they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. Every tip you give should bring the reader closer to getting what they want.

Neil Patel, entrepreneur and marketing genius wrote a great piece on creating actionable content.

Here’s a few tips that he gives in his post:

  • Don’t just tell the reader what to do, tell them how to do it.
  • Give concrete examples that make it easier to understand the concepts you’re teaching.
  • Don’t overdo it. It is possible to make a piece too actionable. You don’t want to confuse your reader by giving too much information.

Actionable content is valuable content. It’s what will make your readers want to come back for more. It’s also what will make them want to share your content.



The Principles of Persuasion are excellent principles to follow when you’re trying to move people to action. Robert Cialdini’s Reciprocity Principle is one of the most important facets of content marketing. It’s one of the main reasons content marketing works so well.

The key point to remember is that you must make sure that your content is as valuable as possible. The more value you provide, the more influence you will have.



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