In recent years, with the growth of Internet, social media have become a virtual space that enables people to communicate, interact, and share their experience. As the frequency of using internet increases, the rate of social media use has also increased (Dryer, 2010). Due to the increase of popularity of social media, people nowadays spend more time on the internet leading to a change in the commercial life. Furthermore, customers use social networks to search for information, post feedback, and share their ideas with other customers and businesses. For this reason, companies started to develop strategies and alter social platforms to improve their brand images, increase sales revenue, and build relationships with their customers. Companies have designed entire departments committed to the design and control of social media within their organizational structures (Miller, 2009; Kelsey, 2010). Hence, in a commercial perspective, « consumer purchases are influenced strongly by cultural, social, personal and psychological characteristics » (kolter & armstrong, 2014, p. 164). Therefore, social media, a fundamental factor of the social characteristics, has a large impact on consumers’ behaviors and decisions.
Social media transformed people into users, and users into customers. Where few years ago the usage of Internet was bounded, now customers using this innovation can give feedback and create content through blogs and podcasts, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Yelp,Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest and many others. The first step in the buying decision is awareness. Thus, customers before making a decision especially concerning high involvement products access information that they need concerning these products and services by means of social media. Indeed online social networks have profoundly changed the propagation of information by making it credibly and easy to share and digest on the internet (Akrimi & Khemakhem, 2012). As a result, social media provides an opportunity to promote and sell products. Undoubtedly, technology gives consumers the capability to explore products and judge them. Therefore, marketers work on offering social network platforms to add information about their products. These contents that contribute to the society should be designed to meet their needs. Mainly these contents posted through blogs, articles and wikis must be correct, accurate, easy and convenient. Many online consumers consider the social media sites as being beneficial and credible source for researching products. For example, customers search for store locations, compare prices, obtain product information, look for sales and offers. It is absolutely critical that companies display reliable and fresh information. Similarly, published contents must be up-to-date and guide targeted, current and potential customers to the right decisions by providing high quality information in order to meet their expectation and deliver the value proposition. When publishing valid and interesting content, customers will be attracted, delighted and satisfied. As a consequence consumers will trust valued information resources and they will become loyal customers in the future. These extra values help in increasing sales including online buying and in store shopping, maximizing profits, building image and strengthening reputation. Fuller et al. (2007) found that a favorable reputation can reduce customer concerns regarding a purchase, increase consumer trust and commitment toward the company and encourage online purchasing.
On the other hand, social media provides a platform for people to engage with their friends and share their experience with other users. Correspondingly, companies are utilizing these platforms as another tool to influence customers. Before making a decision many customers read what other people think about a particular product using social media. One of the advantages of internet is that it enables businesses to reach a worldwide customer population, so that customers can survey, select, and purchase products and services from business around the world (Al Kailani & Kumar, 2011). Most of the consumers search for reviews and comments from different sources to help them make their buying decision. Many online users trust what their friends, family and even strangers comment online about a product or brand. These users observe reviews and ratings to reinforce and facilitate their decisions. Accordingly, many people have gone into a store because of an online experience. Some people read different sites, yet others participate by jotting comments, rating sites, reporting satisfactions and dissatisfaction and liking or disliking products. The creation of content and assessment of products by consumers influence other buyers and the public opinion. This implies that marketers should respond to negative content in a responsible way, since a negative comment have a great impact on consumers’ behavior. Most customers tend to relate more to a company after identifying distinct replies. While positive reviews reduce risks and increase sales. Since social media networks allow users to share content and interact, it has changed how consumers and companies communicate. Moreover, using social media, companies convince users to adopt ideas by sharing appropriate information about the product. Promotions, advertisements and links posted on social media sites (Facebook and twitter) are shared by marketers are then shared or retweeted by users. Users are converted from fans to consumers because companies encourage these buyers to advertise their purchases among friends. Many users recommend a product to their friends after a previous experience with that brand. In that case many consumers who receive a recommendation from their friends have purchased the recommended product. This sharing of information, emotions and experiences among millions of users increase the market share of the company and strengthen the position that the brand occupies in the minds of consumers. In this way, manufacturer’s market their products by means of these networks and have the opportunity to reach the target mass immediately (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). Marketers should recognize the « ambassadors » of their products that mainly create buzz about the company. In addition, user-generated content have an important impact on consumers.
Social media websites provide an opportunity for businesses to engage and interact with potential consumers, encouraged and increased sense of intimacy with consumers, and build all important relationships with potential customers (Mersey, Malthouse, & Calder, 2010). Obviously, customers value organizations that discuss solutions with them using chat rooms, discussion forums, and live chats. Today companies are in constant contact with users to control and solve problems. These conversations increase positive attitudes and perceptions towards the company that help in building brand equity by linking many emotions, loyalties and experiences to the company. The unique aspects of social media and its immense popularity have revolutionized marketing practices such as advertising and promotion (Hanna, Rohn & Crittenden, 2011). People now open these ads more often which is a positive reaction to such a marketing instrument caused by an attraction of customers towards interesting offers and products that they desire to learn more about. With social media, word of mouth advertising can go to millions by a single click and the help of brand ambassadors that spread the world about a company’s product.
In conclusion, managers should be aware of the impact of social media on consumers. Social media affects the behavior of consumers from information acquirement to post-purchase behavior. Accordingly, a company using this innovation can evaluate current and potential consumers and determine their preferences from ideas, thoughts, shares, likes, complaints, reviews and conversations. Businesses must stay ahead of the game and utilize every opportunity to improve sales, marketing and customer loyalty (Bessi, 2013). Using social media platforms companies improve relationships with customers, build and sustain high levels of trust that influence their purchase decisions. Companies must be alert that users control the content on social media, so it is the brand responsibility to foresee how consumers will purchase the products and relate to them. A company that is aware of consumers’ reaction to different characteristics of goods, prices and advertisements tricks has advantage over its competitors (Kotler, 2009).