Displaying the Facebook Like button and the Twitter tweet button on shopping websites affects buying decisions of potential customers. Sometimes it increases the likelihood that they will buy some products, while for other products it reduces that probability. The impact comes down to how consumers think they will be perceived by the public when they buy a given product.
The findings come from a study conducted by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, Empirica Research, and StyleCaster Media Group. Nearly 200 consumers explored products in an online shopping context. Products shown included those people were happy to display in public, such as sportswear for women or a desirable fragrance for men, while others were products they might not want publicly displayed, such as compression underwear for women or acne products for men.
Participants were randomly assigned to see product pages that either included small Facebook and Twitter icons, or did not. The researchers then measured the intended purchase behavior of the shoppers.
Consumers who saw a social media icon near a product that might embarrass them were significantly less likely to buy that product than those who saw the same product without the icon. On the other hand, consumers who viewed products they would be proud to show off were significantly more likely to buy than those who saw the same product with no such icon.
When the product was one for which public consumption is desirable, the presence of the Facebook and Twitter icons made people 25 percent more likely to purchase. When the product was more private in nature, the icons suppressed purchase intentions, also by 25 percent. The impact on intended buying behavior emerged regardless of whether people had any memory of having seen the social media icons, which would suggest the Facebook and Twitter logos penetrated people's unconscious processes.
"Our study finds that the mere presence of social media icons on a web page where we shop appears to cause us to feel as if our purchases are being watched by our social network, and we adjust our buying decisions accordingly," Claudia Townsend, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, said in a statement. "Marketers should be aware that the placement of these symbols in their web design strategy could have a major impact on buying behavior."
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