Facebook’s Secret Strength in Offline Retail

image of facebook networkingThe University of California, San Diego and the Facebook data-science team recently released the results of a study detailing Facebook’s influence on offline activity. The study gathered information from 61 million Facebook users during the 2010 US congressional elections, issuing an informal message to all participants encouraging them to vote. This message included a clickable “I voted” button and links to local polling locations, both of which were tracked for activity. The study found that those who received the message were more likely to vote than those who had not, resulting in an extra 340,000 voters at the election. In addition, the social network activity of respondents’ 10 closest friends was found to play a key role in whether or not participants acted on the Facebook message. The study is the first to show the extent to which social media can affect real world behaviors.

These results suggest that Facebook can play a role in offline shopping tendencies, as well. Though print, television and radio ads have long been retailers’ primary conduit for attracting shoppers, social media marketing has quickly become the new must-have for retailers looking to boost foot traffic. Consistent calls to action across all media forms ensure the most profitable results, and in the wake of the UCSD study, Facebook is being treated as a route for reaching a broader audience with more precision than some other forms of advertising. “The online social network helps to quadruple the effect of the message,” when multiple friends like or share it on Facebook, according to James Fowler, a political scientist at UCSD.

Evidence shows that Facebook frequenters are not only interested in responding to retail offers, they also share them with friends. Facebook reported that 75 percent of the 100 most active “offers” claimed were from individuals who saw the offer after it had been shared by a friend, rather than the person who first found it. Facebook creates an opportunity for any piece of information, be it a deal or a retailer’s reputation, to quickly go viral. In addition, as users “like” music, brands or products, their profiles make easy work for third-party marketers such as ShopLocal, which connects advertisers with local Facebook users, to match potential shoppers to specific retailers.

Facebook is currently investing in partners capable of generating creative advertisements that are specific to each user who sees them, which is a sign of the social network’s course of action in the coming months.