Displaying a Facebook "Like" button or a Twitter symbol on a Web site increases the likelihood that consumers will buy some products and reduces the chances that they will buy others, according to a survey conducted by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, Empirica Research, and StyleCaster Media Group.
"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," said Claudia Townsend, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, 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."
Nearly 200 consumers viewed items that were sold online, ranging from products people were comfortable to display in public (e.g., women's sportswear and cologne) to products they might not want publicly displayed, such as compression underwear for women (such as body shapers) 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.
The study found that consumers who saw a social media icon near a product that might embarrass them were 25 percent less likely to buy that product than those who saw the same product without the icon. On the other hand, consumers who viewed a product they would be proud to show off were 25 percent more likely to buy it than those who saw the same product without an icon.
The impact on intended buying behavior emerged regardless of whether people had any memory of having seen the social media icons. The researchers suggest that these symbols have penetrated people's unconscious processes and can influence their buying behavior even when they are not aware of it.
Some brands have yet to embrace social media icons. Last year, only 44 percent of the Fortune 50 companies had any social media icons on their homepages, and 60 percent hid their Twitter streams, reported Ad Age in a study of the companies' homepages.