Social Media and Consumer Behaviour

This week I had the opportunity to review the latest Sensis Social Media Report and it made for some fascinating reading. The report contains some great statistics and trends on consumer and business engagement with social media, such as, the proportion of businesses with a social media presence, what type of devices people use to access social media, which social networking platforms are being used (or not) and what level businesses are investing in their social media presence.

The report is seriously comprehensive and covers off pretty much everything happening in the social media landscape for the Australian market. Some of the sample sizes are a bit questionable with data extrapolated out from as little as 54 respondents, although there were no major surprises in the trends or the analysis around the results.

One statistic that jumped out for me though, was that among the 14% that use social media to research something that they wish to buy, 59% of that research lead to a purchase (Sensis 2016 pp. 39).

Path to purchase2

Source”: Sensis Social Media Report 2016


This got me thinking…


Traditional consumer behaviour models for the decision-making process (such as Schiffman et al. 2011) focus on the buyer’s family and friendship groups being the biggest influencers. So, how do “virtual influencers” such as Facebook friends, which you may not actually have a real world connection with, fit in to this model? And specifically, what influence can social media have on what was a well-defined model for consumer purchasing behaviour.

Using social media to research product is certainly a trend worth following. In a recent paper the author (Constantinides 2014) makes note that social media made customers more sophisticated and helped them develop new tactics in searching, evaluating, choosing and buying goods and services.

According to Bigne et al (2015), Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) information exchanges can enhance competency during the purchase experience. They go on to explain that consumers trust these exchanges more than traditional communication media because they consider this information to be reliable, nonbiased, and timely. However, in their research findings they concluded that customers are willing to share information obtained from external influences in online environments, but they do not base their purchase decisions on it, nor do they transmit it to the people with whom they have close offline bonds.

This would be a fascinating area to research further as social media continues to shape how the consumer and business interact with each other and how the decision making process is opened up to a whole new range of influences.

8 thoughts on “Social Media and Consumer Behaviour

  1. Good read Keith! Totally agree that C2C is hugely influential towards brand perception and purchase intention… BUT… more and more, C2C can only be honestly authentic, within a persons most intimate social network, as you rightly pointed out. Marketers are hacking C2C via influencers. There is so much buzz around Influencer Marketing at the moment. Using influencers opens a world of possibilities, it allows brands to dilute ‘branded’ and ‘promotional’ content, while still communicating with consumers directly, and at scale. Content is perceived to be more organic, relatable and honest…even when its not.

    1. I’m not entirely comfortable with the decision making process for consumer behaviour as it’s rather too broad for my liking and can change significantly depending on the type of purchase (distress / planned / impulse). It fits ok, sort of, for a large planned purchase but not so much for an impulse purchase. How SM impacts on these types of purchases I find fascinating.

  2. I like this particular line

    “So, how do “virtual influencers” such as Facebook friends, which you may not actually have a real world connection with, fit in to this model?”

    I’ve been managing three Facebook groups with more than 20K members each (two for Samsung, one for generic Android Smartphone suggestions). Back in 2013, my group (the generic one) was one of the biggest “click supplier” for a Online Smartphone Store in Indonesia. it was SO GOOD that the admins were invited by HTC Indonesia for product launch and we got sample smartphones to review (That was the HTC One).

    i’m not going to brag about the group (the group’s dead anyway because we can’t keep up with the so many variants of smartphones). But that thing that HTC did in 2013 by inviting us? that was a great example of having “online influencer” that has a large “fanbase”. We did not have any real-life connection with the members, we don’t even know if the member was a real person or just a persona, does the member knows about the objectivity of the admins? no as well.

    but hey, when it still affects your purchasing decision, i think, companies will do anything to do so.

    1. It is certainly getting very blurry as to who the actual influencer is, as in another consumer or a corporate entity / persona. There is a lot of research being done in this space and certainly worth keeping an eye on it.

  3. Great blog Keith! It certainly was a ‘comprehensive’ reading, I found it gave a very useful overview of how businesses and individuals are using social media with some eye-opening stats – I would never have believed that 100 hours of video were uploaded every minute on YouTube. That’s huge!
    You mentioned that traditional consumer behaviour models for the decision-making process focus on the buyer’s family and friendship group. Just as it is interesting to consider the influence of Facebook friends’ on the decision making process, I think it is also of interest to consider the impact of the brand achieving their key goal of building a relationship (even a friendship) with each consumer. Once the consumer feels that they know, like and respect the brand, that they enjoy their company online and find the brand both knowledgeable and entertaining – the brand may have an influence on the consumer decision-making process in a similar way to the consumer’s family and friends. Perhaps a consumer who has been following a brand online for some time feels some loyalty toward them when it comes time to purchase, in much the same way as they feel a loyalty to the beliefs of their family and friends.

    1. Totally agree Kelly! This is actually going to be the focus of my next article, how interaction and engagement can lead to a change in consumer behaviour. Building a relationship with your audience leads to trust and by establishing trust you can have some influence, to some degree. I’m not sure shoving product / the brand down their throats is the way to go but be part of the conversation rather than a one way broadcast certainly has merit

  4. Great post Keith. Reading your post made me think about how is it that my buying decisions have been influenced by virtual “friends”. I would admit that if I see a post of something I’m interested in, say travel, I would be inclined to look up the destination. Sometimes I’ll go as far as looking at flight prices. How often this leads to an actual purchase? I would say rarely to not often, however, I have become aware of the product so the marketing has worked to some extent.

    Question to you – have you made a purchase based on a promotion (e.g. blog, fb post) of your social media circle?

    1. Hi Anh, I was going to say no but when I thought it through there have been plenty of times I’ve made purchases based on input from virtual friends. I do historical reenactment so will see products being sold in Facebook groups and I’ll buy them on impulse. For higher value items though or more complex purchases I’ll defer to family and friends before taking input from other sources

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