How social media influences what we buy online


Social media platforms and in turn, social networking both play an integral role in online marketing for businesses. Social media allows you to communicate with your clients and potential customers, improve your brand recognition, and increase your audience. So much so that 52% of social media advertisers claim that social media positively affects their company’s income and sales. So how much of an impact does social media really have on this generation’s purchasing habits?

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook

Although Mark Zuckerberg has had a lot of backlash throughout the past few years, there really is no doubt that he has created the greatest social media network for businesses to use to sell. The advertisement element of the platform hasn’t been around that long, but Facebook has continued its evolution since its inception in early February 2004, and there is no denying that this platform is a highly successful sales tool. 

As of the closing minutes of 2019, Facebook announced it raised revenue of $17 billion and over $66 billion over the previous 12 months. Interestingly, $1.8 billion was raised through advertising alone, through companies like tech giant Samsung to promote their products. According to, Samsung once spent $10 million for a three-week period on Facebook to launch the Galaxy S III. 

So why are people advertising with the likes of Facebook? It has managed to achieve over 2 billion active users. Not only does this make it easier for businesses to identify a target audience, but it also helps build an email list allowing you to attract brand new customers. When you have attracted their interest, it’s a perfect way to connect with your potential customers. 

Better still, the Facebook app allows businesses to create personal communities whereby the paying consumers can participate, connect, ask questions, and have a customized customer experience with the brand’s image. The only downside to this is it does become time-consuming due to the need for regular engagement with your audience.

The power of Instagram for selling

Instagram is on the rise to becoming the most popular social media platform, due to its popularity with the younger generations. Instagram’s open social network and engagement with other platforms for social networking have gone a long way to making it one of the most successful platforms of all time. People can browse through pictures embedded from their home feed, and also see other popular and liked photographs on the site. Due to the massive amount of visibility that users get from using hashtags, following others, and remaining active, Instagram has seen a huge increase in businesses looking to sell using their platform.

In contrast to Facebook, Instagram focused on video, being the first to introduce ‘stories’. Various fashioned-based businesses such as Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, and ASOS make use of this feature to announce current sales, discount codes, and adverts. As well as stories, Instagram has also branded the name ‘influencer’, where businesses can start a partnership with individuals who have a specific number of followers and publicity to help promote their business further. For example, Pretty Little Thing partners with certain influencers to create a unique collection of clothes designed to emit the aura of the chosen influencer. To promote this, both the company and influencer share posts and engage with their audience to announce the upcoming collection – every marketer’s dream scenario.

Which industries perform best on social media?

With the help of social media, you don’t have to depend on word of mouth anymore. The top industries that perform well on social media include fashion, entertainment, technology, and travel.

The travel industry uses multiple social media platforms, but one site they excel best in is Pinterest. This platform is a visual search engine to find ideas for food recipes, home and style inspiration, and many more. When you sign up, you “discover” the Pins you want, and save them on boards to keep your ideas categorised and easy to locate. So, when people are scouting different locations to make a holiday mood board, for example, they can simply search names of countries, attractions or specific locations. Luckily for them, if they see an image that they like the look of, there will be a link attached to the photo below showing where the chosen location is; guiding people to future holiday destinations and venues. Two words – great marketing.

Fashion companies also use Pinterest to their advantage. Similar to the travel industry, people can find pictures on Pinterest and take interest in a person’s particular outfit, whether that’s an influencer or from a company themselves, which will then guide them to the desired item, and to the website to buy.

The entertainment industry and social media

For the entertainment industry, they use social media combined with television to promote their goods. YouTube is among the strongest sites where you can depend on online viewers to generate excitement about an upcoming film, programme, comedy performance, or music video. It also helps to raise the hype for an upcoming film with a trailer that then goes on to be shared multiple times, across multiple different platforms. After this, you can then use the platform to release the trailer to other platforms or embed into websites and promote it via advertising. Other social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram find unique ways to advertise, through the use of interactive filters and quick 10 second clips that intervene between every other story you view. 

The fashion business is undoubtedly one of the most successful industries for generating sales on social media, as they utilise influencers the most. Not only that but when watching a YouTube video these days, you find yourself being interrupted by 3 or 4 adverts, based on your search history, making them more likely to be selling something you’re interested in. Mine, for example, tends to show clothing brands like Pretty Little Thing and Zara, promoting their latest collections, and enticing me to click onto their websites and ultimately convert. 

The technology industry and social media

Technology is a new recruit to industries performing well on social media platforms. As well as the fashion industry, the tech world and its many products branch over many of the social media sites. For example, there are many social media profiles for the tech giant, Apple. All of their platforms are allocated to promoting different areas and products, e.g. iTunes, Apple Music, and one for Apple assistance. Interestingly, however, there have been no recent tweets on Apple’s Twitter even though it has over two million followers. 

Apple’s focus, instead, seems to be on their Instagram page where they have a high-level interaction with their customers and potential customers. Their stories generate thousands of views, leading to more clicks onto their website and undoubtedly, more sales. What does this show? That when companies actively use social media platforms to market their products, they can generate more revenue. There are 24.3 million fans on the company’s official Instagram site, whilst Apple Music has more than 4.4 million followers meaning they can market to a huge audience right at their fingertips.

How social media has changed the way the next generation buys online

On account of the trends that spread like wildfire through social media, decisions on what we should buy online tend to be influenced by the trend that is currently popular at that moment in time. The primary distribution of trends is through endorsements, where influencers and celebrities use their social status to promote a product.

Now, the most popular fashion trend of the moment could carry some nostalgia for millennials as Y2K is rebranded. Y2K fashion itself is a restatement of traditional streetwear from the ’90s, paired with street elegance. This trend has already taken over the major social media sites like Instagram and Tik-Tok, with users posting their favorite Y2K outfit inspiration, which includes a variety of items like bucket hats, butterfly clips, and Juicy Couture tracksuits. As well as posting these all over social media, they will then take this look to the streets, making this trend inescapable for most. Due to its social media prominence, one generation, in particular, Gen-Z, has since adopted the trend showing the effective selling power of social media.

So how did the Y2K trend achieve this through social media alone?

A traditional Gen-Z would likely have had a 2000’s childhood packed with Bratz dolls, Groovy Chick bed sheets, glittery lip balm palettes, and Lelli Kelly shoes. This trend has a distinct playfulness about it, which makes it easier to create that nostalgic vibe that many teens enjoy. From the popular surge in buying and selling noughties’ clothing on Depop to shopping at vintage fashion fairs and charity shops, there has been an increase in the “thrifting” fashion trend over the past decade, making it easy for Y2K fashion to tap into this and create an online phenomenon. The internet gives us a huge insight into search trends and traffic data, making it evermore easier for businesses to know what they should build, make or promote next. 

The amount of influence that social media may have over your choice of goods to purchase depends on you. When you authorize privacy policies for sites like Facebook, they will have access to your preferences and dislikes and then configure their shopping advertisements based around them.

What are the pros and cons to this? 

The main question to ask – are we actually buying things we really need? Or are we simply letting our desires from seeing other people online with ideal products cloud our judgement? When purchasing things online through social media platforms, there’s a tendency to buy things due to their popularity like that of my Y2K example. We’re increasing sales for these brands, making money for social media platform’s advertising campaigns, and creating jobs for “influencers” but are we, as customers, doing more harm than good? 

Let’s take the Y2K example. 

Before social media marketing, the way to achieve the ‘ Y2K look’, was to take a trip down to your local charity store or to attend vintage pop-up shops. Now, however, fast fashion has taken over and brands such as Shein and Ali Express have picked up the demand for this trend. These international brands have started to produce clothes catered specifically to this audience and selling them for a much lower price than the average store. So instead of paying an average price for a good-quality piece of Y2K clothing, people have started to switch to buying poor quality clothing from these given sites for a drastically lower price, knowing they can simply buy it again cheaply should it fall apart or wear out quickly. Owing to the vast rise in fast fashion orders, this has been a major contributing factor to our global warming crisis, especially since most of these products are imported from Asia.

But it’s not just the fashion industry that’s impacting the way we buy on social media. 

How does social media impact our purchasing habits on the high street?

The rise in the popularity of online purchases has unfortunately had a negative impact on high street stores. As stated by the British Retail Consortium, there has been a cut of approximately 85,000 retail positions between 2018 and 2019 alone. As a result of this, companies such as Toys R Us, Mothercare, and Victoria’s Secret have met their end and are no longer running. 

Now just imagine this paired with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic forcing high street stores to shut down multiple times due to several lockdowns. Currently, 200,000 retail vacancies have been scrapped. A number of popular chains, like the Arcadia brands, Debenhams, and Laura Ashley, have so far gone bankrupt following the onset of the pandemic, although numerous brands have already undergone substantial reductions. ASOS has bought Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge, and HIIT, turning them into online outlets with no intention of buying any retail stores. Roughly 300 workers in the architecture, ordering, and retail departments of Arcadia are set to collaborate with ASOS, but the downside is that at least 2,500 retail positions will be cut, and Topshop stores will be eliminated from the high street as more and more people continue to buy online, and more so on social media than ever before.

Social media is constantly evolving, especially when it comes to the marketing of products and services. We can see nail bars showcase their treatments, the new MacBook in action, what comes in a HelloFresh, and how to make delicious meals from it all through social media stories and posts. So although we’ve all become accustomed to this new way of buying and the habits that comes with this, the question remains – will this have a positive or a negative impact on our generation and generations to come?

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