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The Death of Reciprocity: The Rise Of Cohort Taker

If You Stop Getting, Will You Stop Giving? Where’s Reciprocity?

In a previous post, I discussed how many principles of the way that human beings are influenced have changed since they were identified by Robert Cialdini in the book Influence. While in that post, I discuss how four out of the six principles no longer apply, there is one myth that stubbornly refuses to go away, which is the myth of reciprocity.

Even today, an article in the Wall Street Journal discusses how even chimps have it baked into their psyche, and the author of that piece uses that to infer that that principle also is deeply embedded in humans and that it is something that can never be evolved away. Additionally, they conflate the concept of reciprocity with fairness.

I dispute that analysis.

Due to the suspension of education in both religious and ethical systems and the lack of education from parents, some individuals and their children were raised without this concept. After being given everything they have ever needed by parents who are guilty about their upbringing, they have been taught that they don’t need to reciprocate the parent’s actions. When these children act out due to not being given something, the parents never deny the child; they may distract or defer, but eventually, they give in. Even the manner of saying “Thank you” when one is given something is optional.

When you have been given everything that you have ever wanted your entire life – when you have received almost everything you have asked for, with no expectation of reciprocation- how can we expect anyone like this to reciprocate? They may do so with a “Thank You,” but at the same time, chuckle to themselves that they were able to get something out of you for nothing in return.

These are the same people who were encouraged to play games with no scoring, but you can bet that they kept scores in their heads. This likely helped to internalize score-keeping in every activity. When these individuals sign up for your free newsletter, and you give them something of value, they simply take that thing of value, increase their own score in their heads, and mark your follow-up emails as spam. Reciprocity is damned.

This is a “Cohort Taker,” expecting everything and giving nothing. Their idea of fairness is everyone gets the same thing of value for free. The rules of TANSTAAFL are completely thrown aside.

If you think about it, with software eating the world, and these people thinking that information (which is software) thinking that it needs to be free, they expect all things electronic to be free. The concepts of markets, supply, and demand are foreign to them, and they only care about it when someone else steals their own intellectual property but have no issues with stealing others.

So now that I have outlined this new cohort of customers – how do you sell to them? You can no longer expect anything in return from a reciprocal giveaway, so that is a non-starter. Those 300000 emails on your mailing list? Probably mostly fake accounts so people can get your free thing.

So how do you sell in this world? The only thing that is left is popularity. In addition to being given everything and expected to return nothing, these individuals have been told that their individual preferences and desires would be subsumed by the desires of the collective – as the collective is more important than the individual.

If that is the case, the only way that you can sell to Cohort Taker is to be popular with Cohort Taker, ironically. Social proof is now the absolute most important aspect of selling – which of course, unearths the unhappy dilemma that you can’t sell unless you’re popular, but you can’t be popular without sales.

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