Reciprocal altruism is imperative to building customer advocacy

We as marketers need to change the way we think. For too long, we have inundated the community with one-way marketing messages.

We as marketers need to change the way we think. For too long, we have inundated the community with one-way marketing messages. We refer to customers as segments, target audiences, and users who visit a website. We want them to buy our products, fill out a form, click on a link, download a white paper, “follow us” on Twitter, and, of course, “like” us on Facebook.

This line of thinking needs to stop. I don't know about you, but I'm human, and I don't want to be referred to as any of the above. I am a real person with real emotions, likes, and dislikes, and I am passionate about all kinds of things. I want to be treated with respect. And I believe that most customers, specifically the social customers, feel the same way.

If marketers and PR professionals truly have the best interests of the community in mind, we have to think differently about building advocacy and affinity for the brand. It's about being selfless, not selfish.

Reciprocal altruism, as defined by Steve Knox, CEO of Procter & Gamble's word-of-mouth division Tremor, is a concept “where you give to someone with no expectation of getting something in return.”

What a huge lesson for business today. But what does this exactly mean?

It means that we need to take off our direct marketing hats and listen to the wants, desires, criticisms, and passions of our customers. It means we have to “lay off” corporate messaging and the brand “narrative” and focus on how the customer views the brand. Nine times out of 10 it's completely the opposite.

Then we have to ask ourselves this very important question: Can we add value to the conversation? Because if we can't add value, there is no point at all to engage, build, or create a community for our customers.

The reality is that every brand, product, or company has advocates, and when you can give them something of value without any expectation of getting anything in return, they will give back a hundred fold.

There is a quote I keep in the back of my mind when meeting with clients or brainstorming social media programs with my team. It goes like this: If you love your customers, they will love you back and tell others.

Michael Brito is an SVP, social business planning at Edelman Digital. Follow him on Twitter.

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