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How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior Essay

Social media has increasingly become a constant in our lives. Many people reach out to friends or family through social media, sometimes on a daily basis. Through Facebook, people can view pictures and read status updates. Twitter allows others to read status updates that are limited to 140 characters. Each of these social media tools has its advantages and disadvantages but each opens up the doors to creating an online community with others that may not be possible offline.

George Herbert Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism states that our interactions with individuals and communities shape our identities and influence our actions. Is it possible that his theory could apply to the ways in which a persons’ social media community influences his or her purchase decisions? This paper will seek to find the answer. The following thesis will include an analysis of Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism, a literature review about communities in social media, the method used to collect data, an analysis of the data, and implications from the study.

Importance of the Study
As a professional marketer, I have always been fascinated with social media. At the very essence of human nature is a desire to be social. Social media has provided humans an outlet to create online communities making it easier to network with others, which satisfies some of our deepest social wants and needs. Additionally, social media has allowed users to increase the amount of people included in their personal communities, as social media is both viral, which is to say that information travels rapidly between social media users, and transparent.

Social media can be considered transparent as users of sites such as Facebook and Twitter post their thoughts, pictures, and locations to their followers, which often consist of people who are not close friends or family. Social media tools have become superb channels for marketers to reach consumers. The article titled, “Expand your Brand Community Online” states that social media is important for marketers because it allows them to dialogue directly with consumers, which in turn engages consumers directly with company brands (Hanlon, Patrick, Hawkins, & Josh, 2008). Many companies, such as Audi and Dunkin’ Donuts have used social media very effectively to reach consumers. According to Wasserman (2011), out of all other brands on Facebook, Audi’s fans are the most engaged of all major corporate brands on Facebook.

That consumers can reach out to companies and their personal communities via social media has created a power shift between companies and consumers. Lee (2010) contends that social media has become vastly popular for “normal people” because it allows anyone to interact with content or deliver it (p. 112). This model of communication is vastly superior to the traditional format of one-way communication between major media and its intended audience (Lee, p. 112).

A company that uses social media is more likely to create relationships with members of its target demographic rather than traditional media where conversations between the medium and the audience are unlikely. Now, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have made it easy for consumers to post product reviews and reach out to other like-minded individuals in their communities. As social media infiltrates our lives as consumers, before people make purchases, they are increasingly reaching out to their social media communities for opinions (Drell, 2011).
Goal
Consumers often want others’ opinions about items before they make a commitment to purchase. For example, they may ask about the color of a shirt, or if they should purchase a large or small purse. Social media communities provide an outlet for consumers to seek opinions, but how often and at what point in the purchase process do consumers reach out to their online communities for advice?

Do the opinions provided by social media communities actually impact consumers’ purchases? These are among the key questions I will seek to answer in this thesis, including the overarching question of whether social media communities impact consumers’ purchase behavior. An exploration of Mead’s concept of the “self” reveals how it can help a company realize its brand identity and ensure the “self” portrayed on Facebook remains consistent with its understanding, and the public’s understanding of the brand. In Mead’s theory of symbolic interaction he suggested we create our “self” by figuratively peering through a looking glass to see ourselves as others do, which leads to the creation of an identity (Griffin, 2009, p. 63).

As we interact with others, the “self” is constantly changing and adapting to further shape our identities, which, Mead contends, are ultimately based on how others view our “self” (Griffin, p. 63). Mead’s concept of the “self” is an apt metaphor for the process in which a Facebook profile is created and refined through communicative engagement with consumers in a digital marketplace. Using Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism, this thesis will attempt to identify how social media communities affect consumers’ online purchasing behavior.

To help answer the question of how people’s social media communities affect their online purchases, I will use numerous research methods to gather data relevant to my thesis topic. For the collection of literary sources, I will use two primary sources. First is the online databases offered through the Foley Center Library at Gonzaga. There, I will discover and collect academic peer-reviewed journal articles about the history of social media, the psychology behind the creation of personal communities and how people interact with them, and current trends in consumer purchase behavior. Another resource I will use is the online magazine Advertising Age, a primary resource for marketing professionals that includes articles about trends in digital marketing.

From Advertising Age, I will search for articles about new technologies that help consumers more efficiently reach out to their social network communities. ProQuest will be my main literature database source as it contains a wide variety of academic journals suited for a thesis. Advertising Age will be a complementary source while the databases Business Source Complete and Communication & Mass Media Complete will likely serve as complementary sources.

I will employ survey research to help collect data. I will create a survey instrument with a list of questions that pertain to people social media communities and how these communities affect their purchases. The survey will include a Likert-like scale of 1-3, and will allow for collection of data regarding people’s rankings of the influence their social media communities have over their purchases. Additionally, the survey will include situational questions, i.e., “If you were to buy a large purchase, would opinions from your Facebook friends impact your purchase?” Lastly, the survey also will gather information that could have an impact on the thesis question, including respondents’ age, other demographic data, and item amounts purchased online vs. offline. Organization of Remaining Chapters

The following thesis will be organized into the following chapters. The second chapter will be the literature review. This chapter will cover Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism and its relation to the creation of online communities. The literature review will also review the theory of hyper-symbolic interactionism as well as the benefits to online communities, how social media has transformed the power dynamic between companies and consumers, the differences in millennials’ and non-millennials’ use of the Internet, and gender differences in relation to Facebook.

The third chapter of this thesis will introduce the scope and the methodology used to gather data. The scope of the project will be limited to people who live in Western Washington, use social media, and purchase products online. The methodology will be a Likert-like survey distributed through the survey tool Surveymonkey.com. The fourth chapter will analyze the data gathered from the survey. Lastly, the fifth chapter will conclude the thesis. It will contain method limitations as well as future studies that should be considered.

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REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Introduction

Symbolic interactionism theory was created by Mead to describe how humans form their identity and construct a reality of social norms through interactions with others. Although human interaction methods have changed over time, most recently with the digital age, Mead’s theory remains relevant in today’s world. Applying the theory of symbolic interactionism to online networks, it can be hypothesized that online communities shape individuals’ identity and reality, and provide a vast network with which to create relationships. This literature review will further explore Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism and its application to online communities within social networks. It will also explore how social network users create relationships that can influence their online purchasing decisions.

Overview of Symbolic Interactionism Theory

The theory of symbolic interactionism includes three core principles that describe how humans interact with each other through meaning, language, and thought to create our “self” (Griffin, 2009, p. 60). Mead believed that interactions are “central to the development of one’s social identity and functioning according to shared norms and values” (Tormey, 2007). Meaning is found in how a person constructs a social reality (Griffin, p. 60). The way one interacts with others, verbally or nonverbally, derives from the meaning one assigns to various interactions (Griffin, p. 60) For example, a person may see a protestor on the street picketing very loudly. This person may view the protestor as obnoxious and intrusive, whereas another person may view this person as progressive and inspirational. Each of these people has assigned a meaning to the protestor, which in return constructs a reality.

The protestor’s true meaning, however, cannot be concretely defined, for each person will assign a different meaning to the protestor and interact based on the meaning he or she has constructed. The meanings one assigns to another is created through the use of language (Griffin, 2009, p. 60). When the first person sees the protestor, he or she uses language to assign a certain meaning to the protestor. Calling the protestor obnoxious assigns a negative meaning to the protestor through language.

To Mead, “naming is the basis for human society” (Griffin, p. 61). Lastly, thought occurs when we refer to our inner dialogue to interpret symbols and their meaning (Griffin, p. 62). According to Mead, a person needs language to create this inner dialogue (Griffin, p. 62). Without symbolically interacting, one cannot think and create this inner dialogue, which in turn allows a person to assign meaning to others (Griffin, p. 62). When the three principles of meaning, language, and thought occur, the idea of a “self” begins to emerge (Griffin, p. 63). Mead believed we had to look outwardly to truly understand our inner selves (Griffin, 2009, p. 63).

This occurred when the concept of the looking glass self was used (Griffin, p. 63). When the looking glass self is applied, people construct their identity based on how others view them (Griffin, p. 63). One’s “self” is created through interactions with others involving the
use of language (Griffin, p. 63). Thus with each new interaction, a person’s self can change, which is how we evolve and create our identities. When we interact on a one-to-one basis with another we create a self based on how another views us, but when people interact within an entire community, their self is created based on the expectations and responses of the community (Griffin, p. 65).

When interacting with a community, a person creates a “generalized other” based on what expectations and responses the community is perceived to have, Mead noted (Griffin, 2009, p. 65). This generalized other is our guide to behavior when interacting with community members (Griffin, p. 65). It helps a person assign meaning to actions, and to act based on the meaning one wants to assume within the community (Griffin, p. 65). As interactions become more frequent within communities, norms and boundaries are created (Lynch & McConatha, 2006, p. 89).

To Mead, a community consists of, “individual actors who make their own choices. Yet they align their actions with what others are doing to form healthcare systems, legal systems, and economic systems” (Griffin, p. 65). Although Mead formed this theory long before the Internet was created, it also applies to online social network interactions. Using Mead’s concept of the lookingglass, one can see how a Facebook page is actually a creation of our “self.”

Symbolic interactionism theory plays an important role in the creation of Facebook profiles and how individuals identify themselves through engaging in online communication. “When Facebook users communicate ‘what’s on their mind’ or update their status, they are offering a representation of the ‘self,’ which is based on their social interactions with others” (Ellis, 2010, p. 39).

According to Ellis, there is a three-step process in which a Facebook profile reflects one’s identity in light of Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism (p. 39). First, a Facebook user, through actions, allows other Facebook users to become aware of his or her intentions. These intentions are made clear in a person’s Facebook profile picture and profile name (Ellis, p. 39). Secondly, communication occurs, as the profile picture becomes the user’s “self.” This image is what they would like others to perceive to be their identity (Ellis, p. 39). For example, if a

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veterinarian laboratory chose a picture of a smiling veterinarian and a happy dog, this lab is portraying to the world via Facebook that the company is not only a veterinarian laboratory with happy veterinarians, but one that caters to dogs, and in return, the dogs will be happy. Lastly, in the three-step process the profile picture means something to Facebook users who use it to decide what their identity will be (Ellis, p. 39). The user has created a “self” through this profile picture as it brings about an identity utilizing the symbolic act of communication (Ellis, p. 39).

Hyper-symbolic Interactionism Theory
Hyper-symbolic interactionism is a revised theory of symbolic interactionism for online networks (Lynch & McConatha, 2006). Theorists like Mead who used symbolic interactionism to describe socially constructed worlds did so before the invention of the Internet. The classic application of symbolic interactionism theory needs to adapt and evolve to fit today’s digital society (Lynch & McConatha, p. 88). Additionally, advancements in sciences require symbolic interactionism theory to be re-analyzed (Lynch and McConatha, p. 88). Advancements in such subjects as neuroscience and psychology have allowed us to learn more about the human mind than Mead knew when he created symbolic interactionism theory (p. 88).

The generalized other, as Mead explained, forms when one creates his or her “self” based on a community’s expectations and responses (Griffin, 2009, p. 65). Thus, the “self” one creates is constantly changing and evolving based on interactions with others (Griffin, p. 65). One can assume that the creation of online communities, which use different means of interaction, allows one’s “self” to evolve even more than Mead ever thought one could (Lynch & McConatha, 2006, p. 89). Lynch and McConatha propose that the creation of a generalized other still exists, but exists differently online vs. offline (p. 89). While the generalized other still helps one form a “self,” the generalized other in the digital space is different than the one Mead described (Lynch and McConatha, p. 89).

Lynch and McContha (2006) claim that the generalized other humans perceive today is different than Mead’s because of technology (p. 90). Due to the decrease in varying methods of human interaction, such as phone calls and verbal communication, and an increase in similar digital interactions, we are creating our self based on a different generalized other than Mead described (Lynch & McConatha, p. 90). The generalized other that impacts one’s self in the digital age is based more on consumerism than the generalized other described in the classic theory of symbolic interactionism (Lynch &McConatha, 2006, p. 90).

Hyper-symbolic interaction is Lynch and McConatha’s (2006) solution to the immediacy of the Internet (p. 91). Hyper-symbolic interaction theory explains the creation of a new type of reality based on symbols found digitally.

The theory “comprises the smallest symbols such as the l’s and O’s of computer language and the tiny pixels of digital imagery, as well as the complex contemporary imagery of advertisements and commercials produced daily” (Lynch & McConatha, p. 91). The larger symbols and imagery that these details create lead to new values and norms different than other nondigital communities (Lynch & McConatha, p. 91).

This digital community is filled with marketers and advertisers, which in turn affect the reality humans’ construct, including the norms and values we abide by, as well as the meaning we give to symbols. We socialize very differently in digital reality than we do in real life (Lynch & McConatha, p. 91). Additionally, the increase in digital advertising causes us to perceive marketers and ads as reality (Lynch & McConatha, p. 92). Neuromarketing is a new term to describe marketing that has emerged from this shift in reality.

Neuromarketing involves the study of how consumers react to marketing messages and is based on the idea that we have three brains, the new brain, the middle brain, and the old brain (Lynch & McConatha, 2006, p. 93). There are claims that neuromarketing actually drives consumers to purchase more products through a process of discovering consumers’ needs and then integrating them within their reality (Lynch & McConatha, p. 94). Neuromarketing also taps into what is believed to be a human’s old brain, the decision-maker that makes choices based on what will help one survive (Lynch & McConatha, p. 94).

A human’s reaction to the decisions made by the old brain creates a constructed reality of what we essentially need and should react to (Lynch & McConatha, p. 94). Recently, Delta Airlines used neuroscience marketing to create a budget airline called “song.” The word “song” had no meaning to the airlines, but they used neuroscience marketing to discover the word “song” produces a pleasant feeling for consumers (Lynch & McConatha, p. 94). Delta Airlines is tapping into meaning consumers associate with symbols. Do consumers realize this or is it so engrained within our newly digitally created realities?

Social Network Communities
The article “Consumer Behaviour in Social Networking Sites: Implications for Marketers”(2011) identifies how humans use social media and how marketers should approach users of social media (Diffley, Kearns, Bennett, & Kawalek, p. 47). Its authors assert there are two methods marketers can use to reach consumers via social media: push

THE STUDY
Introduction

For a week, I collected survey results through Surveymonkey.com. After asking co-workers in Seattle, people on Facebook and Twitter, and others in the Gonzaga community to take the survey, I amassed 154 responses. The survey responses came from Western Washington residents who use social media, and purchase items online. Survey questions asked were specific to Facebook and/or Twitter to gain more insight into how the two social media tools affect consumer behavior online (Appendix A). Data Analysis

Of the 154 total individuals who answered the survey, the majority of people were 30-39 years of age (34%), 64% were female, 57% used both Facebook and Twitter, 55% used Facebook daily and 53% never used Twitter. The majority of individuals had 200299 Facebook friends (24%) and 52% of individuals had met all of their Facebook friends. In comparison, 40% had 1-99 Twitter followers and 40% had never met their followers in person. From these data it can be
deduced that those who use Facebook typically “friend” others (meaning they are added as friends in their Facebook profiles) they also know offline while those who use Twitter tend to follow or be followed by strangers.

Of all Facebook and Twitter respondents, 60% responded they purchase items online and offline at the same rate. These respondents noted they typically purchased clothing and accessories online (70%). Additionally, 68% of respondents bought travel accommodations online, 50% bought housewares, 32% buy electronics, and 10% buy insurance online. When asked if they would be more likely to listen to a stranger’s online review over that of a friend, 65% said they would be somewhat more likely while 30% said they would not be likely.

To determine whether a person’s Facebook or Twitter community impacts their likelihood of online purchases, I asked a series of questions in the survey regarding Facebook and Twitter. From the results of these questions, I was able to gather enough data to indicate that Facebook communities have a higher impact on how consumers purchase products online than Twitter users. These results vary slightly from my hypothesis, which posited both social media tools would influence consumer behavior. Fifty-four percent of Facebook users said that they sometimes reach out to their Facebook communities before purchasing a product. This is a large percentage of Facebook users who view their Facebook communities as a trusted source for product opinions. Overall, How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, based on the survey results, the majority of Facebook users sampled in this study said they are open at times to the influence and opinions of their Facebook communities, while Twitter users say their communities rarely influence their purchase decisions. When asked how often they reach out to members in their social media communities for opinions about products before they purchase them, 47% of respondents said they never reach out to Facebook friends before purchasing an item. Ninety percent said that they never reach out to Twitter followers before purchasing an item.

Two sets of questions asked in the survey reveal the point in the purchase funnel in which people reach out to others on Facebook or Twitter. Fifty-two percent of individuals never gather opinions from Facebook friends at any point during the purchase funnel. However, 20% reach out to Facebook friends before researching products to buy, 26% while they are comparing products after the initial research phase, and 2% directly before purchasing a product.

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Ninety-two percent of Twitter users never reach out to followers during the purchase process. Only 2% of Twitter users reach out to followers before researching products to buy, 5% before comparing products after the initial phase and 0% directly before making a purchase.

When asked how likely it was that Facebook friends would influence one’s online purchases, 48% said that it is not likely, while 51% said that it is sometimes likely. Only 1% said that it is always likely.

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Twitter appears to have significantly less of an effect on one’s online purchasing behavior as 92% said that Twitter is not likely to affect their purchase decisions. Six percent of Twitter users said that other Twitter followers will sometimes influence their purchase decisions and 1% said that other Twitter followers almost always have an influence.

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Fifty-seven percent of Facebook users said that they have later purchased an item they heard about on Facebook, while only 17% of Twitter users said the same. The majority of Facebook users (54%) believe that Facebook is sometimes useful when looking for opinions about what products to purchase while 41% said it is not useful. Twitter is even less useful according to respondents as 79% said Twitter was never useful when looking for opinions about what products to purchase and only 19% said it is sometimes useful.

When filtering the data to discern the difference in millennials (younger than 30 years of age) and non- millennials (30 years of age and older) it appeared that millennials were more open to influence from Facebook communities than non-millennials. The majority of non-millennial respondents used Facebook everyday but never used Twitter. Sixty-four percent of millennials used Facebook every day and 27% also used Twitter on a daily basis. Millennials were more likely than non-millennials to have both a Facebook and Twitter account (61% of millennials have both compared to 53% of nonmillennial). Sixty-one percent of non-millennials purchase about the same amount of products online as they do offline and 73% of their purchases are for travel accommodations. In comparison, 57% of millennials purchase about the same amount of products online as they do offline and the majority of their purchases (77%) are for clothing and accessories.

Fifty-four percent of non-millennials say that they never reach out to Facebook friends for opinions before they purchase products online, while 51% of millennials said they sometimes reach out to Facebook friends for opinions. A large majority of both millennials and non-millennials said that they never reach out to Twitter followers for How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, opinions before purchasing a product. Millennials were more likely than non-millennials to reach out to Facebook friends before researching products to buy. Additionally, 24% of non-millennials stated that they reach out to Facebook friends to compare products after the initial research phase, and this was around the same amount for millennials (29%).

Seventy-eight percent of millennials said they hear about products on Facebook that they later buy 51% of non-millennials said the same. Forty-eight percent of nonmillennials believe that Facebook is not useful when looking for opinions about products to purchase online while only 35% of millennials believed that it is not useful. The majority of millennials (61%) believe that Facebook is sometimes useful when looking for opinions about what products to purchase. Both millennials and non- millennials agreed that Twitter is not useful when looking for opinions about what products to purchase.

The majority of male and female respondents who took the survey were 30-39 years of age. Sixty percent of males used both Facebook and Twitter while 36% only used Facebook. In comparison, 54% of women used both Facebook and Twitter while 43% used only Facebook. Forty-seven percent of males used Facebook daily while a large percentage (50%) never use Twitter. Women tend to use Facebook and Twitter more often. Sixty-two percent of women use Facebook daily while, like males, a large majority never use Twitter. When asked the question, “About how many of your “friends” on Facebook have you met in person?” Forty-four percent of men responded that they knew all of them, whereas 53% of females stated that they knew all of their Facebook friends offline.

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, Sixty-four percent of men said that they typically purchase the same amount of items in store and offline with 65% of purchases being travel accommodations. On the other hand, 59% of women typically purchase the same amount of items in store and offline with 73% of purchases being clothes and accessories. When asked how often they reach out to Facebook friends to provide opinions about products they may purchase online, 57% of men and 51% of women said they never do.

Fifty percent of men also said that it is sometimes likely their Facebook friends will influence their purchases and 53% said that they often hear about products that they later purchase on Facebook.. Whereas, only 47% of women said that it is sometimes likely their Facebook friends will influence their purchase decisions but 59% said that they hear about products on Facebook that they later purchase. Both genders saw Twitter followers as having only a small influence on their purchase decisions if any at all.

Results of the Study

Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism states humans are influenced by community members (Griffin, 2009, p. 65). Using Mead’s idea that communities impact our perception of what is a norm, I hypothesized that social media communities would impact consumer online behavior. My belief was, that if Mead believed that communities impact our perception of reality and what is normal, then by default social media communities should influence what one purchases online. One would purchase based on what the community believes to be the best purchase.

The survey results showed that Twitter communities tend to not significantly impact social media users’ online purchase behavior, but Facebook
communities typically do and have the potential to become even more of influencers for consumers.

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, Facebook results seem to fall right in line with Mead’s idea of communities as influencers. While for Twitter, the survey results indicate that Twitter communities behave differently than offline communities and Facebook communities. As the majority of Twitter users stated that their followers are strangers, they may not feel the same type of intimacy and companionship as those who use Facebook feel. This is something Lynch and McConatha (2006) touch on when introducing the theory of hyper-symbolic interactionism. Lynch and McConatha believe that due to the marketing-based reality constructed on the Internet, we no longer have the same type of community interactions as we do offline (2006). If this is so, then it is plausible that one’s Twitter community has less of an influence, especially for those who are avid Twitter users. For marketers, this study can be interpreted in two ways.

First, it implies that marketers who focus on the sharing of products among social media communities to boost sales should rethink their strategy, especially if they use Twitter more than Facebook. Second, the results of the survey should inspire marketers to find a marketing method that will increase the influence online communities have on other social media users. My study showed that Facebook communities typically influence some users and have the potential to influence even more in the future. Many Facebook users surveyed seemed to value their Facebook friends’ opinions when it came to purchasing items online, and sometimes these opinions impacted their purchases. Marketers should use community influence on Facebook users as a way to increase sales and/or brand awareness.

Another takeaway for marketers is the difference between Facebook and Twitter. Most of the respondents use Facebook on a daily basis and Twitter was not used nearly as

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior,  much, if at all. Out of the two social media platforms, Facebook communities are more of a community than Twitter. More people on Facebook know their Facebook friends offline, while many Twitter users did not know most of their Twitter followers offline. When comparing all of the questions pertaining to Facebook and those pertaining to Twitter, it is apparent that those who use Facebook have more of a relationship with their friends than Twitter users do with their followers. For marketers, this information is beneficial when deciding what channel would be the best to focus their attention on. Cărtărescu (2010) stated that online communities create places for members to “share a sense of belonging, have a specific culture, a specific set of norms (‘netiquette’), affective ties that bind them together and a sense of shared history” (p. 82).

These elements appear to be lacking in Twitter as most respondents to the survey answered that their Twitter communities were typically comprised of strangers who did not impact their purchasing decisions. Based on Cărtărescu’s definition of an online community, and the lack of survey participants that use Twitter, it is questionable if Twitter constitutes a community, especially one that influences. Rather, it can be identified as a communication tool to reach out and converse with strangers but probably is not able to build relationships like Facebook does.

In my opinion, Facebook feels more like a community than Twitter. Answers from the survey support this notion, as many of the respondents stated that they knew Facebook friends offline, while Twitter followers are comprised mostly of strangers. Based on Mead’s concept of a community as an influencer, I assumed that people would reach out to their Facebook communities to help shape their opinions, more than they would on Twitter. What my survey discovered was a good portion of Facebook users felt

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior,

like Facebook was a good method of gathering opinions before purchasing a product, as 50% of survey respondents used Facebook communities this way. Respondents seemed to regard Facebook as a community full of influences, which could help shape not only the Facebook users’ identities, but their purchasing opinions. Greenleigh (2010) found that 84% of millennials turn to online communities before purchasing an item. The survey results from my study found the opposite. On average, 50% of millennials who responded to my survey said that Facebook influenced their purchasing decisions. In particular, when asked how often they turn to Facebook communities before purchasing an item, only 51% of millennials said that they sometimes do and 47% said that they never do. Greenleigh also found that millennials were 51% more likely to trust strangers when purchasing products, over family and friends.

Again, my study contradicts Greenleigh’s notion. Sixty-five percent of millennials said that they would sometimes listen to a stranger’s online review of products over their friends. While 29% said they would not be likely to and a small margin of 6% said they would always listen to a stranger’s online review. According to Thompson and Lougheed (2012), women are on Facebook more often than men and due to this have increased anxiety. While my study did not measure the amount of anxiety one feels from social media, it did find that women tend to spend more time on Facebook than men much like Thompson and Lougheed stated.

Forty-seven percent of males used Facebook daily while 62% of women use Facebook on a daily basis. What is surprising about the results when comparing men and women’s Facebook tendencies, is the smaller influence Facebook communities have on women than men. Although women said that they used Facebook more often than men on a daily basis, they How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, were less likely to be influenced by Facebook communities when purchasing a product online than their male counterparts. However, women tend to contradict this statement when they are later asked how often they purchase items after hearing about it on Facebook and 59% say that they sometimes do. In comparison, a smaller percentage of men say the same.

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior,

SUMMARIES AND CONCLUSIONS
Limitations of the Study

While my study produced interesting results, I believe there is room for my improvement within my study that would have produced better results and more reliable data. One such issue that I would have changed was my desire to limit the location of participants in the survey. My study focused solely on Western Washington individuals with the belief that they would believe an adequate sample size to study. While my sample size provided reliable data and provocative insights, I am curious whether a larger sample size would have impacted the results I received.

Would people in Eastern states view Facebook and Twitter differently than people in Western Washington? I think my sample size was drawn too narrowly to make a conclusive statement. A second problem with my study is due to time constraints. I was only able to gather data using one method. With more time, I would have implemented an additional method. Another data source would have provided more insights on how social media communities impact consumer behavior online. While my survey, provided adequate enough data to analyze and make a prediction, a method, such as an in-person user research study, would have provided additional results to analyze. Further Studies or Recommendations

For further evaluation of how social media impacts consumer behavior online, other studies should be explored. While my thesis only looked at the impact of social media communities on consumer behavior online, another avenue I would have liked to pursue would have been the impact of a company’s Facebook page on consumer behavior

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, online. For instance, if an online consumer likes or interacts with the Nordstrom Facebook page, are they then more likely to purchase from Nordstrom online? Additionally, another study that could provide interesting results would be how Facebook advertisements impact consumer behavior online. Many companies purchase these ads hoping that they will entice Facebook users to visit their company page, purchase their product, or recommend the product to others. While data are available on these advertisements to the companies that purchase them, such as number of clicks on ads, a study could help indicate if they actually influence Facebook users to perform the wanted action. The data only show numbers, but a study could help identify the psychology behind the numbers and why a person may click on one company’s Facebook ad over another.

Conclusions
Social media continues to play a role in many people’s lives. From finding information about friends to perusing a company’s Facebook page to gain insight into their products, many of us use social media constantly. While our purposes for using social media may vary, we all have created communities we interact with within our social networks. According to Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism, the way we interact with individuals shapes our identity. Thus, it can be thought that how we interact with others on social media also can shape our identity. Mead also described the importance of a community’s influence. My thesis seeks to understand if a social media user valued their social media communities’ influence when it came to purchasing products online. I hypothesized, based on Mead’s rationale, that if offline communities

How Social Media Communities Impact Consumer Behavior, 41 impact our identities and actions, then social media communities should perform the same way.

To obtain this information I distributed a survey to respondents in Western Washington who use Facebook and Twitter as well as purchase items online. When analyzing the results, many interesting insights were noticed. The respondents of the survey interacted more with friends and family on Facebook than they did on Twitter. The majority of Twitter followers one had were strangers. Thus it can be deduced that Facebook is more like an offline community that Mead describes than Twitter. When it came to answering my overall thesis question of whether or not social media affected consumer online behavior the survey showed surprising results. It was found that Twitter had very little influence on consumers and more than likely they never reached out to Twitter followers at any point during the purchase process for opinions.

Facebook friends, on the other hand, had more of an influence on Facebook users. Around 50% of Facebook users reach out to their Facebook communities before purchasing an item. Thus, results for Facebook align with Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism. In conclusion, the survey I distributed found that social media communities in general, do have an influence on what products social media users purchase online, with Twitter having a very minimal amount of influence and Facebook communities having a relatively high level of influence.

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References
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