Reciprocity stems from sociological roots, as part of the social exchange theory.[i]

Reciprocity means an exchange between two people. One can provide resources to another with the expectation, but not explicit requirement, that the other person will provide resources to the original giver at a later point in time.[ii]

Types of Reciprocity

Generalized Reciprocity

Generalized reciprocity refers to transactions that are altruistic on the line of assistance given, and if possible and necessary, that assistance is returned. The ideal type would be Malinowski’s “pure gift” -- a free gift given out of generosity.[i]

Balanced Reciprocity

Balanced reciprocity refers to direct exchange between two people. The reciprocation is equivalent in value to what was received. This type of reciprocity is less “personal” than generalized, and considered “more economic.” The parties involved confront each other as distinct economic and social interests.[i]

Negative Reciprocity

Negative reciprocity refers to the attempt to obtain something for nothing. These are transactions conducted toward utilitarian advantage. This is the most impersonal exchange, but the “most economic.” An example would be “bartering"-- looking to maximize utility at each other’s expense.[i]

Reciprocal Values and Public Relations

In the field of public relations, reciprocal values are especially important in the area of reputation management.[iii]

Reciprocal values include:

- Trust
- Openness
- Involvement
- Investment
- Commitment

These are values that are common to and reciprocal among organizations and their publics.[iii]

Reciprocity and Public Relations

In public relations, reciprocity has been shown to be a “universal component of all moral codes” and one of the key tenets of stewardship, along with responsibility, reporting, and relationship nurturing.[iv]
This idea is rooted in open systems theory and is best known from Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model of public relations.[v]Two-way symmetrical communication would make organizations more responsible to their publics.[v]

Reciprocity plays an integral role in cooperation and productivity by helping parties optimize the balance between the resources they have and those they need at various points in time.[ii]

In regards to the field of public relations and the concept of reciprocity, to be effective, there must be a two-way open system between an organization and it’s publics. This is the most crucial component of a public relations practitioner’s approach in managing its publics.

A Reciprocal Exchange

Journalists often rely on public relations practitioners for newsworthy information and sources. Public relations practitioners count on journalists for media coverage and third party endorsements. The two have complimentary but distinctive objectives, and the recognition of these differences allows each party to determine its interdependence without turning to manipulation. This example between journalists and public relations practitioners is that of a balanced reciprocal transaction. There is a mutual transaction involved.[v]

[i] Sahlins, Marshall (1972). On the Sociology of Primitive Exchange. Stone Age Economics. Retrieved on Oct. 18, 2012 at

[ii] Goldstein, Noah J., Griskevicius, Vladas, Cialdini, Robert B. (2011) Reciprocity by Proxy: A Novel Influence Strategy for Stimulating Cooperation.Administrative Science Quarterly 56(3), 441-473

[iii] Boynton, L. (2006). What we value: A Delphi study to identify key values that guide ethical decision- making in public relations. Public Relations Review 32(4), 325-330

[iv] Greenwood, Cary A. (2010). Evolutionary Theory: The Missing Link for Conceptualizing Public Relations.Journal of Public Relations Research; 22(4), 456-476

[v] Stoker, K., & Tusinski, K. (2006). Reconsidering public relations' infatuation with dialogue: Why engagement and reconciliation can be more ethical than symmetry and reciprocity. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 21(2/3), 156-176