Facebook and Twitter icons influence online buying, says study

Facebook Twitter badgesOnline advertisers take heed: The mere presence of social media icons, such as Facebook and Twitter badges on websites, can subconsciously influence online spending — that according to a recent study conducted by the University of Miami School of Business.

Researchers tracked nearly 200 participants’ online shopping behaviors and determined how the presence of the ubiquitous Facebook “Like” or Twitter “Tweet” buttons influenced actual purchasing. What they found is intriguing: The existence of social media icons can either greatly persuade or greatly dissuade consumers from buying, depending on the specific product they’re considering. As Professor Claudia Townsend explains, the findings indicate that “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 networks, and we adjust our buying decisions accordingly.”

For instance, if a participant saw a Facebook “Like” button next to an item they might be embarrassed to be seen buying — a pair of Spanx, perhaps (the research specifically mentions these), there could be a 25 percent reduced chance of the consumer actually going ahead and making the purchase, compared to the same product on the same page, but without the social reference. Place a “Tweet” or “Like” button next to “sportswear or a desirable fragrance” and that same statistic reverses itself, with a 25 percent greater likelihood the product will be bought.

The researchers randomly assigned product pages to study participants — some products were of a distinctly private nature (acne medication for men, compression underwear for women), others included those items that you might not mind your friends knowing you bought. Equally random was whether or not the pages included social networking references.

What’s particularly striking is that the trend held even if participants had no recollection that there had even been social networking icons displayed, demonstrating the true subconscious power of those little badges. Researchers went on to claim that the symbols have “penetrated people’s unconscious processes and can influence decisions and behavior in ways that may bypass our awareness and ability to control.”

Online advertisers have long tried to increase the accuracy of online marketing by gleaning increasingly more personal information from Internet users; in turn, online advertising revenues were almost $8 billion in the last quarter of 2011. Google’s new privacy policy ostensibly serves this purpose by combining user data from all of Google’s wide-reaching web services. And President Obama’s recently announced “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” means to address consumer concerns over access to their browsing behavior by limiting what information advertisers can actually use. But what this study makes clear is that good old-fashioned peer-pressure may be just as important as targeted advertising in influencing consumer spending.

When it comes down to it, social networking for most users is a curated experience: We all try to show ourselves in the best possible light, and style our profiles according to our tastes, whatever they may be. As Nick Bergus found out when he unwittingly became the face of a 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural water-based lubricant via a Facebook “Sponsored Story,” this brave new world of social media advertising can have uniquely undesirable consequences. As this study points out, however, when most consumers are faced with the prospect of social networking embarrassment or prestige — even unconsciously — it can have a dramatic impact on how they shop online.

Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Smart Home

Ecobee leverages humor in a heated discussion with climate change skeptics

Ecobee cranked up the heat on climate change doubters. In observance of Earth Day, Ecobee and ad agency DCX released video of a social experiment that tested the effectiveness of humor in easing tension during discussions with skeptics.
Emerging Tech

How MIT hacked horticulture to cultivate a hyper-flavorful basil plant

At MIT, Caleb Harper used his personal food computers to alter the climate in which he grew basil. Exposing it light for 24 hours a day changed the flavor profile of the plant, making it spicier and stronger.
Movies & TV

No TV? No problem. Here's how to watch the NCAA championship game online

Whether you want to watch the Big Dance on your phone or on your smart TV, we have the lowdown on all the ways to watch March Madness you can handle. Grab your foam finger and some nachos.

Back off, photo thieves: Flickr alerts photographers to image theft with Pixsy

Worried about someone swiping your photo off Flickr? The image sharing platform can now integrate with Pixsy accounts to alert photographers when a photo is used without permission by using artificial intelligence to scour the web.
Social Media

Facebook’s tributes section serves as an online memorial for deceased users

Death doesn't stop Facebook users from sharing memories, and now those memorialized posts have a dedicated spot on the network. Facebook Tribute is a section on memorialized profiles for users to write posts and share memories.
Social Media

How to protect yourself from GoFundMe scams before donating

Can you spot a GoFundMe scam? While the fundraising platform says scams make up less than a tenth of one percent of campaigns, some do try to take advantages of others' charity -- like a case last year that made national news.

House votes to restore net neutrality rules, but effort faces long odds

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the Save the Internet Act, a measure intended to restore net neutrality rules that were repealed in 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission.

Search all of Craigslist at once with these great tools on web and mobile

Not finding what you need in your local area? Craigslist can be great for finding goods and services from further afield too. All you need do is learn these tips for how to search all of Craigslist at once.

The FCC and White House want to bring high-speed internet to rural areas

The FCC and the White House unveiled new initiatives to bring high-speed internet to rural areas, including $20.4 billion in incentives to companies to build infrastructure. The FCC also announced ways to speed up the rollout of 5G.

Internet Explorer zero-day exploit makes files vulnerable to hacks on Windows PCs

Evidence of an Internet Explorer zero-day exploit capable of letting hackers steal files from Windows PCs was published online by a security researcher who also claims Microsoft knew of the vulnerability and opted not to patch it.

Buying airline tickets too early is no longer a costly mistake, study suggests

When you book can play a big role in the cost of airline tickets -- so when is the best time to book flights? Earlier than you'd think, a new study suggests. Data from CheapAir.com suggests the window of time to buy at the best prices is…

Report says 20% of all 2018 web traffic came from bad bots

Distil Networks published its annual Bad Bot Report this week and announced that 20% of all web traffic in 2018 came from bad bots. The report had other similarly surprising findings regarding the state of bots as well.