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reciprocal marketing

How to Use Reciprocal Marketing as a Growth Strategy for Your Startup

Johannes Rastas

Affiliate Marketing Manager at Supermetrics
Johannes Rastas is an Affiliate Marketing Manager at Supermetrics, the leading reporting automation tool for PPC, SEO, social and web analytics. Passionate about marketing, statistics and content, he’s also actively looking for new affiliates for their Supermetrics Affiliate Program.

Reciprocal marketing is a marketing strategy in which two businesses agree to promote each other’s products or content for mutual benefit. In this article, we will look at how startups can apply the reciprocity principle as part of their overall growth strategy.


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Why do you need reciprocity in marketing?

Also known as co-promotion, reciprocal marketing can take many forms. While many companies take advantage of co-promotion, they could benefit from a more systematic approach where reciprocal marketing is utilized to its fullest potential. Especially in content-related marketing activities, reciprocity presents a cost-effective scaling strategy for startups whose marketing budgets are limited.

How to apply the reciprocity strategy

Here, we will focus on three areas of marketing where you can apply the reciprocity strategy: content and link building, social media and email newsletters. The reason why these three were chosen is because none of them require any substantial investment up front. Most companies leverage these organic channels anyway, so adding reciprocity to the mix takes minimal effort.

Content and link building

The Pareto principle states that roughly 80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of the causes. Similarly, we can apply it to content marketing, where you can expect around 80 percent of your results to come from 20 percent of your published content.

It’s important to invest enough time and resources in SEO, including keyword research and link building, as well as in the promotion of your content. In terms of reciprocity, making the most of your company’s content means creating a network around it. With this network, you can boost your content by featuring relevant articles from guest writers on your website, getting your guest posts published on other websites in the same niche, and building backlinks with other companies to improve your domain authority.

As long as they’re not used excessively, there’s nothing sketchy about reciprocal links. In fact, 74 percent of websites have reciprocal links. Just make sure they actually add value to your content.

When building your content network and reaching out to other businesses, pay attention to the following.

  • Relevance: These companies should operate in the same niche as your business and share a similar target audience. Otherwise, the co-promotion would be of little value to both parties. Driving conversions is the ultimate goal of all your marketing activities. So, ask yourself if you could see their audience as potential customers of your business and vice versa.
  • Company size: To ensure you both get enough benefit from the exchange, it makes sense to cooperate with businesses that are more or less in the same stage of growth. This way, you will share the same content goals and find common ground more easily. Use a tool like SimilarWeb to check their website traffic statistics.
  • Domain authority: To make the exchange equal, also take domain authority (DA) into account. DA score shows how well a website ranks for keywords, so obviously a backlink from a high DA website is more valuable to you as a trust signal. So, enter your potential collaborator’s domain on a website authority checker before you proceed.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of relevance when talking about any content-related collaboration. Google takes relevance very seriously, and it remains one of the top ranking factors. Whether it’s about guest posting or link exchange, visitors must find value in the content and in whatever is behind those links. All of it needs to be topically relevant and match users’ intent.

To get started, take the following steps.

  • Collect a list of potential collaborators: Find out who is responsible for content marketing and guest posts before reaching out to a potential partner. Also, try to evaluate the content to make sure the company is worth collaborating with.
  • Create outreach templates: Create separate templates for email and social media, where you explain your pitch. Be direct and concise and start with a value proposition. You may also create separate templates for guest posting and link building.
  • Reach out to prospects: Email is usually preferred if you have no previous contact with the person, but social media works, too. For example, you can start the interaction on LinkedIn or Twitter before reaching out.

Establish your own social media community

You may also want to consider creating a community on social media, like a Facebook or LinkedIn group. The benefit of having an actual community is that you don’t have to contact those same collaborators one by one when you want to cooperate with them again. Everyone in the community can freely offer guest posting opportunities or suggest reciprocal links when they have an article in the works.


Related: 10 Reasons Why Micro-Influencer Campaigns Interest Gen Z

Social media

The reciprocity strategy lends itself to social media platforms in the form of content promotion groups and communities. Social shares and likes boost your company’s organic visibility and contribute to building your brand. It’s not an uncommon way to convert people into customers, either.

But the crux of social media is customer engagement.

When it comes to organic reach on social media, the numbers are far from impressive. On Facebook, for example, the average reach of an organic post is only 5.2 percent, while paid posts reach 28.5 percent of the total (page likes). The average engagement rate for all posts is 3.4 percent.

This has to do with the algorithm changes on social platforms and the increased overall volume of content. Most users have more than a thousand posts competing to appear in their newsfeed every time they log in. And the algorithms select only a portion of those posts based on their relevance to the user. The ranking now favors posts that spark “meaningful interactions” between people.

social media
(Facebook Page reporting template by Supermetrics)

One solution to the organic content challenge is to join or create an online community where members can share their newly published content and ask other members to like or share it.

But having a community on social media means that you also need to spend time managing it. So, establish guidelines and create qualification criteria for those who want to join. For example, you could accept people only from your niche and require everyone to be a regular contributor in the group. You might also want to evaluate their previously published content.

Here’s an example of a few basic reciprocal marketing principles you could set up for your community and ask everyone to agree upon when joining:

  • No paid promotions are allowed, only reciprocity-based collaboration
  • Only promote relevant content that matches your target audience
  • No obligation to promote everyone’s content in the community
  • Only high-quality content in select niches is accepted

Since there’s no contractual agreement involved, all collaboration is based on mutual trust. That’s why all members should be encouraged to focus on building mutually beneficial relationships, instead of looking for quick wins and not giving back to the community.


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Email newsletters

One more channel where you can leverage reciprocal marketing is email newsletters. This means that two businesses agree to mention and link to a product, service or piece of content from each other in their newsletters that they send to their customers or email subscribers.

To make the co-promotion successful, it’s important that you both have a more or less equal number of subscribers and send your newsletters at similar intervals, for example, monthly. Even if you agree on a one-time promotion, those intervals usually impact the newsletter engagement metrics. You should share the results afterwards, including key metrics such as your open rate and CTR.

Evaluate the impact also by looking at your website traffic from email on that day:

(Newsletter traffic example)

If you send an email newsletter once a month, for example, you shouldn’t have more than one collaborator per newsletter. Having multiple would damage your own newsletter results. See if you can agree to offer some special perks for each other’s newsletter audience. That way, you avoid the risk of just promoting another business at the expense of your own audience.

Conclusion

For any startup to prosper in the competitive landscape, it’s better to partner up with others than to go solo. Many marketing channels, including SEO, content and social media, are dominated by the big players who possess more authority and resources.

When you have articles that are not ranking at the top of search results because competing articles have more referring domains and backlinks pointing to them, it’s time to find yourself a network of partners. Apply the reciprocity strategy systematically, make use of the advantages of being a small business, and invest in the relationships with your collaborators.

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