You know that embarrassing feeling you have when a neighbor catches you reading about the ongoing saga of Brangelina and Jennifer in the Weekly World News while waiting in the supermarket checkout? Or runs into you in a particularly embarrassing aisle at the drugstore? Turns out that same feeling creeps into our ecommerce decisions in the privacy of our own homes.
Apparently, just seeing social media icons like Facebook’s and Twitter’s has a subconscious influence on online buying habits, according to a recent study by the University of Miami.
“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 who conducted the research with Empirica’s David Neal. “Marketers should be aware that the placement of these symbols in their web design strategy could have a major impact on buying behavior.”
There’s no blanket good/bad correlation, though. It all depends on what you’re buying. According to the study:
When the product was one for which public consumption is desirable (e.g., sportswear or a desirable fragrance) the presence of the Facebook and Twitter icons made people 25 percent more likely to purchase. But when the product was more private in nature (e.g., Spanx, Clearasil), 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. This suggests that these symbols have penetrated people’s unconscious processes and can influence decisions and behavior in ways that may bypass our awareness and ability to control.
The study had a relatively small sample of consumers – fewer than 200 – but the wide difference in behaviour (25%) between the groups who saw and didn’t see the social media icons seem fairly conclusive.
Clearly, social media icons are a great boon to selling the kinds of feel good products that consumers love talking about.
But if you’re selling “unmentionables” of some kind, you may want to separate sales pages from social media efforts.