Social media doesn't always make people more social. In fact, when it comes to making certain purchases, the mere presence of a social media icon — such as one representing Facebook or Twitter — will scare people off.
That's according to research that found the presence of a Facebook "Like" button or a Twitter symbol on a shopping website increases the likelihood that consumers will buy some products and reduces the likelihood that they will buy others.
According to the study, 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. Even more surprising, the icons had the effect even when the study participant didn't recall seeing the icons.
The impact of the social media icons was significant. When the product was one for which public consumption is desirable — sportswear or a desirable fragrance, for example — 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, such as Spanx or Clearasil, the icons suppressed purchase intentions, also by 25 percent.
"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 David Neal, a researcher at market research firm Empirica Research. "Marketers should be aware that the placement of these symbols in their Web design strategy could have a major impact on buying behavior."
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 researchers said.
For this study, nearly 200 consumers explored products in an online shopping context.