How Social Media Is Influencing Purchase Decisions



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Though it started out as a platform for individuals to share photos of their friends and family, social media has evolved to become much more impactful, especially for businesses. Social media is now a key component of organizations’ marketing strategies and for good reason. 74% of shoppers make buying decisions based on social media, according to Sprout Social. And this shift isn’t specific to B2C companies. B2B businesses are benefiting from social media’s purchasing influence too.

So the influence is there, which means the key is to figure out how to take this influence and leverage it for your own business:

Reviews from Social Influencers

The term “social influencers” has been coined to represent individuals who have a significant following on social media. With a large audience seeing these influencers’ posts each day, they’re often targeted by businesses to promote products. But regardless of whether the influencers’ posts are sponsored or not, their content has a large effect on purchasing decisions. Essentially, they contribute to the “bandwagon” effect.

If an influencer shares a post on Instagram about her new jeans, raving about how comfortable and affordable they were, her followers are often interested in learning about those jeans. The stats can back it up: According to the PwC total retail survey 2016, 45% of global respondents said that reading reviews, comments, and feedback influences their shopping behavior.

Social influencers are typically pretty well-versed on social media and will tag the store or brand of the products they use in their posts. This makes it easier for followers to become familiar with the brand and influence a purchase.

Reach out to influencers in your industry to see if they’d be willing to try your products and share their experience on social media. Find individuals who have a large following, but remember: the larger the following, the more requests from businesses they probably receive. Do your research to find influencers that attract followers that align with your target personas.

Reviews from Friends and Family

In its basic function, social media allows us to connect with our friends and family who we may not see very often. But the more we use social media, the more information we share. We tell our friends and family about a new product we’ve discovered, which has a significant influence on our friends and family.

80% of consumers are likely to purchase an item based on friend’s suggestions. If you were on the fence about buying a product, would you trust a review from a stranger over a firsthand review from your aunt? Probably not.

Pro Tip: Ensure you’re encouraging your customers to join the conversation about your products on social media. Create a brand- or product-specific hashtag, and promote it on your website, in your brick and mortar store, and throughout your own posts. Try hosting a contest where customers enter by posting a photo of how they’re using your product.

The Store’s Presence on Social Media

Further to the point above, a business’ presence on social media has a significant influence on purchasing behavior. Put it this way: Even if a brand has all kinds of attention from social influencers and customers, with a lackluster social media presence it will be difficult to convince anyone of their credibility. A consistent feed which showcases their products in use and provides value will help turn visitors into followers and into buyers.

With a strong feed, businesses will typically be able to attract more followers, which is the other key component in driving purchase decisions. Seeing a large number of followers tells new people that others are aware of the brand, entertained by their posts, and satisfied with their products. It’s simple math: Cool posts + lots of followers = higher probability of purchases.

Pro Tip: Post content that your followers will find valuable, and post it often. Even if your business is in the service industry or does not sell products online, social media allows you to grow brand awareness, connect with customers, and gain valuable insight from them.

Advertising on Social Media

Placing ads on social media has become simple to set up and yet targeting has become much more detailed. Advertisers can place ads that align with their business goals, such as establishing brand awareness or driving sales. When an individual clicks through a social media ad and lands on the advertiser’s website, retargeting ads can also be placed to move people through the sales funnel.

You’ll see in the image below that buyers go through a series of stages before making a purchase decision. Advertising on social media allows marketers to lead users into the “awareness” stage, and all the way through to the “buy” phase.

advertising on social media

Ads on social media can also be very effective in driving repeat sales. Giving customers a gentle reminder that it’s time to restock their product X, or showing complementing products has the ability to increase a customer’s lifetime value. This is typically done through remarketing or retargeting.

Pro Tip: Align your advertising campaigns with the sales funnel shown above.

Algorithm Updates Present “Trending” or “Popular” Posts First

You’ve probably noticed some changes to social media over the last few years. On both Facebook and Instagram, posts that receive more engagement than others will appear first in news feeds.

Posts with more comments, shares, and likes are favored as they are identified as “trending” posts. This can influence purchase decisions when a particular product or service gains initial attention on social media. It shows up first, getting more people interested.

Pro Tip: “Trending” posts require more than just likes. Encourage your followers to comment and share your post as well. Include a question in your caption, or suggest that your followers tag a friend.

Brands Creating Discussions Among Followers

You’ve probably witnessed discussions spurring on social media between your friends and family surrounding a particular product, service, or brand, but the brands themselves are also initiating these conversations.

Here’s an example from a barbecue company, REC TEC Grills. When an individual was looking for advice on selecting a product, REC TEC Grills posted the question on their Facebook page.

discussion on social media

Customers who purchased from REC TEC and were satisfied with their purchase weighed in on the post. REC TEC did an excellent job here leveraging the power of their existing customers on social media. They turned them into evangelists. There were over 100 more comments after these top three!

Pro Tip: Spark discussions among your followers by asking questions. Let your loyal customers sell your products or services for you.

Search Engines on Social Media

When buyers are in the discovery stage of the sales funnel, they may be searching for solutions or suppliers. Social media is becoming more and more popular for searching which means keywords are playing a bigger role on social. Unlike getting to the top of Google’s search engine results pages, ranking on social media is considerably easier (for now).

Pro Tip: Research the keywords that make sense for your business. These will vary from one social media platform to another. Integrate those keywords into your headlines, photo captions, comments, and even your profiles.

Contests Generate Awareness

Running a contest on social media has several benefits for the business. Depending on the terms of the contest, businesses usually see a spike in engagement, more followers, increased brand awareness, and sometimes an increase in sales.

When your initial contact with a new follower is about your products or services, you accelerate the sales funnel. You’ve established the Awareness and also budged the potential buyer into the Discovery phase.

Pro Tip: Run contests on social media the smart way. Promote it on your blog, in an advertising campaign, and on your homepage. Benchmark your stats and sales sources beforehand and after the contest ends to see if your efforts were effective.

Key Takeaways

It’s clear that businesses — e-commerce and brick-and-mortar — need to have a strong social media presence in order to drive more sales. But listening in on the discussions surrounding your brand and products will help you better understand your buyer’s behaviors and how they use social media to search for and share their experience with your product. This will allow you to focus your social media strategy where it matters most.

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