like us on Facebook signHave you ever noticed yourself shopping more frequently at a store you've "liked" on Facebook (FB)? Or buying a certain brand just because one of your friends has "liked" it -- even if it's not a brand you'd considered before? Have "likes" led you to buy goods you don't use and regret purchasing?

You're not alone. But why does it happen?

Much of the answer lies in the normal psychological tendencies advertisers exploit. Facebook, with its social networking component, makes us particularly vulnerable to being subtly influenced by advertisers. But there's hope. Once people become aware of some common advertising strategies, we aren't such easy marks. With that in mind, let's look at how product peddlers use Facebook to lure us into brand loyalty.

1. They appeal to our desire to be consistent

When we "like" a company on Facebook, it may have a more profound effect on our decision-making than we realize. According to professor Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence, when we take a stand on a particular issue, we have a profound desire to behave in ways that are consistent with that stand -- especially when we've taken our stand publicly.

Does this tendency affect our behavior after "liking" a company on Facebook? Absolutely. According to a study by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies, becoming a fan of a brand makes 51% of Facebook users more likely to buy that brand, and 60% of users are more likely to recommend the brand to others.

Similarly, we are more likely to buy products that our friends publicly endorse.

2. They take advantage of our tendency to "get on the bandwagon"

We often look to others for cues about how we should behave. This fact is reinforced by our tendency to consult reviews on websites like Yelp (YELP) and Amazon (AMZN) before making a purchasing decision. In many cases, it makes sense to do this. Taking advantage of information provided by prior customers, who have information we don't, can help us make better purchasing decisions.

However, marketing campaigns that use our friends' Facebook endorsements usually lack the context provided by comment boards, which can contribute to informed decisions by indicating why people like or dislike a product. Instead, Facebook ads appeal to the basest form of our tendency to "follow the leader."

Does this strategy really work? Survey says, "yes." According to a study by Burst Media, about 46% of social media users claim that friends' recommendations influence their purchasing decisions. And that's only the users who recognize the influence.

And if that isn't enough to make you wary of the power these ads have over you, consider this: Facebook marketers have clever ways of getting you to become fans of brands that you may not have even purchased, or that you don't want to endorse as a consumer.

3. They get us to "like" brands we don't actually like

Ever see an advertisement on your Facebook page offering discounts or freebies to users who "like" the brand's page? According to Chadwick Martin Bailey, 41% of Facebook users cite such offers as their reason for "liking" a brand. This marketing strategy can even draw users who haven't yet tried a product or brand but are willing to purchase it at a discount or receive a freebie.

Advertisers also have more roundabout ways to get you to endorse brands you haven't tried or don't actually like. Ever seen corporate-sponsored charity promotions that offer to donate money or goods for each new person who "likes" their page, or that allow a company's "fans" to vote on which charity will receive a substantial donation?

Consider Target's (TGT) "Super Love Sender" campaign from 2010, which allowed the company's Facebook fans to choose which charities would receive part of a $1 million donation. Such a campaign may win fans among users who have pet charities. These users may also further leverage the benefit of such a campaign by encouraging their social media friends to also become fans and support their cause.



Self-Defense Strategies

So now that you know how Facebook advertising takes advantage of our psychological tendencies, what can you do about it?

A little knowledge goes a long way. The main defense is to be aware of how ads are used to influence you, and to make a deliberate decision to act only on the information you want to influence you.

If your Facebook friends "like" a product you're thinking about buying, ask them why they like it and see whether their reasons match what you're looking for in a product. Also, when you "like" brands you don't really like, make a mental note of your motivation for doing so in order to increase the chances that you will act on your real intentions -- and not how the advertisers want you to act.



Motley Fool contributor M. Joy Hayes, Ph.D., is the Principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. She doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Follow @JoyofEthics on Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Amazon.com. Motley Fool nedwsletter services have recommended buying shares of Facebook and Amazon.com.



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