A recent study by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, Empirica Research, and StyleCaster Media Group examined how the presence of the Facebook “Like” button and Twitter symbol might affect online purchase decisions. The results indicate that these icons do have a significant impact on the decision to buy — a decision that varies depending on the type of product, and whether consumers would want to share that purchase information with their social network.
The study asked nearly 200 consumers to explore products in an online shopping context, and participants were randomly assigned product pages that either included small Facebook and Twitter icons, or did not. Some products were those people were happy to display in public (sportswear, a desirable fragrance) while others were products people might not want publicly displayed (compression underwear for women, acne products). Finally, researchers then measured the intended purchase behavior of the shoppers.
- When the product was one for which public consumption is desirable (sportswear, fragrance) the presence of the Facebook and Twitter icons made people 25% more likely to purchase
- When the product was more private in nature (Spanx, Clearasil), the presence of Facebook and Twitter icons made participants 25% less likely to purchase
The impact of these symbols on intended buying behavior emerged regardless of whether people had any memory of having seen the Facebook or Twitter icons. According to the study, the findings suggest that these social media icons “have penetrated people’s unconscious processes” and can influence their decisions and behavior “in ways that may bypass our awareness and ability to control.”
“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,” says Claudia Townsend, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration. “Marketers should be aware that the placement of these symbols in their web design strategy could have a major impact on buying behavior.”