• Dani Michaela Alberto

Engagement Through Value | The New Reciprocity Ratio

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Hey team!

As we all know, it’s getting harder year-on-year to get students engaged. How do we get students to actually listen to us? How do we ask them to do something for us?

As a student union, we are constantly asking ourselves how do we influence students' actions and decisions.

A principal strategy we use in our team, and with our partner Unions, is the “New Reciprocity Ratio”.

The theory of reciprocity is a concept as old as time. Humans tend to reciprocate in our daily interactions. Most students’ unions however, for one reason or another, operate in the reverse. It happens so often that we had to name it the Shun Ratio.

If we focus on using union activities to give value to our members once, reciprocity will not almost always follow. We have operated this way because, at least in the UK, students’ unions are “opt-out” membership organisations; instead of “opt-in” membership organisations.

We tend to give a lot at freshers week; then it’s all sign-up or register or survey this (asking for time), or attend or organise or vote-for that (asking for energy), or buy this (asking for money). We often believe that if we “market-it” as “promos” or disguise it as “surveys to make their lives better” then we are entitled to their engagement as members. Online content, physical publications, and our activities fall into two categories; is it providing real value to our members, or is it asking for value instead.

“Being “opt-out” membership organisations, we have disadvantaged ourselves by operating as students have taken the conscious decision to pay a membership fee and be a part of our organisation” - Raj Jeyaraj, SMOOVEmedia

The New Reciprocity Ratio (following the pareto principle of 80/20) has a powerful influence on our behavior. It operates on a simple principle: We tend to feel obligated to return favors after people do favors for us. This is why when we incessantly give value to our team members, they feel compelled to agree to a later request as a way of returning the favor. By reciprocating, we ensure that other people receive help when they need it and that we receive assistance when we need it.

We use this as a marketing strategy that will allow us to get things done that we would not be able to do on our own. Engage first! Give value first! Solve their problems first!

Giving value tends to fall into three categories: time, energy, or money.

This further breaks down into: giving them time/energy/money or saving them time/energy/money that might be by helping them find a house and understand their rights as tenants, helping them find a part-time job and be more employable, helping them find the best night out and getting the best discounts, etc.

As students unions we already do these activities, however it would be a shame if our online and public personas look more like an “asker” rather than a “giver”.

In many cases, the reciprocity norm is actually a good thing. It helps us behave in socially acceptable ways and allows us to engage in a social give-and-take with the people around us. By working together or exchanging services, people are able to accomplish more than they would individually.

There is no such thing as something for nothing.” — Napoleon Hill

Share & practice this principle strategy! Download your cheatsheet here:



6 Principles of Influence by Robert Cialdini

The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

Value-Based Marketing by Peter Doyle

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