Recently I attended the Corporate Executive Board’s Enterprise Council on Small Business (ECSB) Summit in New Orleans with several colleagues. Amazing time! Great insights on Twitter for marketers interested in engaging their small to medium-sized business customers to advocate on behalf of their brand. Two of the most fascinating insights presented had to do with the very human side of social norms and can be summarized as reputation and reciprocity.
There’s a strong expectation of trust and integrity among small-business owners (SBO) and stable social norms at work in this community. This sort of thing has been referred to as Reputation Theory of Social Norms, by social psychologist Andreas Engert.
ECSB presented research that showed 45% of seek advice from other SBOs when making a purchase decision, and 70% of the time they follow the advice they receive! What motivates the SBO to recommend a product or service to their peers? Most often, it’s to make a positive impact on their peers’ business. And they consider their peers to include their larger network of SBOs within and outside their industry. Why would a SBO NOT make a recommendation? Most often, it’s because they are concerned that the product or service could in some way harm another SBO and thereby hurt their reputation.
Even though many are competitors as well as peers, the individual business owner’s own reputation seems important enough to nearly ensure the recommendation will further the collective good. You could just say SBOs take care of their peeps.
In the simplest terms, the social reciprocity norm refers to our compulsion to respond to a positive action with another positive action. Research presented at the ECSB Summit showed that SBOs feel a strong sense of reciprocity not only with other SBOs (96% inclined to reciprocate), but the great majority feel a strong sense of reciprocity also with their suppliers (≥71% inclined to reciprocate) if something nice was done for them. It’s the golden rule, applied to business.
The strong sense of obliged integrity is a powerful dynamic in the SBO community. As we think about developing programs to encourage advocacy, we will all do well to remember small business customers are people, not businesses.
Judy Rudolph Begehr
Senior Vice President – Account Planning
Cross-posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network