Social commerce

Using social media to influence purchase intent

  • 16 Minutes
Turning followers into sales isn't luck - it's science. Find out about the theories and workings of purchase intent, and see how it can make your posts push for more purchases!

Do you know what signs indicate your audience are thinking of buying from your brand?

The best way to craft an effective marketing strategy is to understand what signals indicate your audience have strong purchase intent.

By learning what behaviours and signs indicate your audience are primed and ready to buy, you can deliver the right message to the right people at the right time.

And here’s where social media fits in: 54% of social media users use these platforms to research products and services. Plus, 71% of users are more likely to buy products or services they’ve been recommended by others on social media.

So, by leveraging social media to build trust, deliver social proof and provide delightful customer experiences, you can help to streamline your audience’s path to purchase.

To help you turn your social media channels into a conversion-driving engine, this blog will explore:

  • Everything you need to know about purchase intent
  • What makes purchase intent a valuable metric for your business
  • The key factors that influence purchase intent
  • Why social media marketing is key to boosting your audience’s purchase intent
  • A stack of practical ways to leverage social media marketing to influence purchase intent + more

What is purchase intent?

In a nutshell, purchase intent is a measure of how likely a person is to buy from your brand. It’s all about looking for key audience behaviours that can be used to predict future sales.

For each business, the types of behaviour that signal strong purchase intent will be different.

  • For an eCommerce store, actions such as viewing pricing pages and saving items to a wishlist can be key purchase intent behaviours.
  • For a service-based business, these actions might be viewing an FAQs page, engaging with a chat bot or even sending an enquiry.

By having a clearer picture of your audience’s online behaviour, you can better understand what steps they need to take before they convert. Plus, understanding purchase intent can help you to refine your marketing strategy as you’ll be able to design content that helps move audiences to the next step in the buyer journey.

One recent study looked at the link between purchase intent and purchase behaviour online. It revealed that purchase intention is all about how willing someone is to buy from a brand, and that these behaviours are influenced by both internal (how well does the product or brand respond to their needs) and external factors (how easy it is to navigate their eCommerce store).

To understand how likely someone is to buy from a brand, predictive modeling is used to measure purchase intent. It draws on a stack of data and factors, including:

  • Audience demographics
  • Website engagement
  • Past purchase behaviour
  • Interactions with marketing activity

With a clear understanding of purchase intent, brands can refine their marketing efforts to focus on messages, channels and platforms that will drive the best return on investment.

Why is purchase intent important?

Purchase intention is one of the most reliable indicators of purchasing behaviour. Essentially, it’s all about looking for the signs that reveal someone is likely to make a purchase.

And here’s why it matters: it narrows your marketing efforts down to just the actions that will move the needle for your business. That means less time spent on poor performing channels and more time dedicated to nurturing, engaging and converting high-intent audiences.

By understanding the exact signals of purchase intent, your brand can more effectively market to consumers at each stage of the buying process.

So, what signals should you be looking out for? There’s two key categories of intent that are important for your business:

  • Informational intent: this means a consumer is on the hunt for new information or knowledge and are trying to educate themselves about a product or service. Their behaviours often include awareness-stage activity such as reading blog articles, guides, or educational videos.
  • Transactional intent: this means a consumer is in the market to make a purchase. Their behaviours can include bottom-of-the-punnel actions such as viewing pricing pages, searching highly-specific keyword phrases in Google or adding items to their cart.

Both types of intent are important for your marketing efforts. By distinguishing between awareness-stage and decision-stage intent signals, you can ensure you’re tailoring your marketing materials and messages to drive meaningful action for your audience (no matter where they’re at in the buyer journey).

What factors can influence purchase intent?

A tonne of research has been conducted that explores what factors influence purchase intent.

One study looked at the role of social psychology in influencing purchase intention, and highlighted five key factors that have a role to play, including:

  1. Attitude: these are the opinions we hold towards brands and are developed over a period of time in response to our relationship with this business and other influential people in our lives.
    • In the context of purchase intent, the more positive our attitude towards a business, the more likely we are to spend with them.
  1. Subjective norms: when we see other people we trust making purchases from a particular brand, the more likely we are to do the same. This relates to how influential people (such as friends, family, colleagues and even respected influencers) can shape our decision-making and purchasing habits.
  2. Perceived behavioural control: this is all about how much control we have over the buying process (such as whether we can opt to click-and-collect over delivery, or even the payment methods on offer). The more control we have in the buying process, the stronger our intent to seal the deal.
  1. Ease of use: this is all about the user experience and how easy it is for someone to navigate an online store, interact with a brand on social media or get in touch with their customer support team. The more pleasant and enjoyable the experience, the higher their purchase intent.
  2. Perceived usefulness: this is all about how effective a brand’s website, eCommerce store and social media marketing are at addressing their audience’s pain points, needs and aspirations. The more tailored and relevant these messages and products are to their needs, the higher their purchase intent will be.

But it doesn’t stop there. More research has been done to show how other factors (such as the rise of gamification) can impact purchase intent and spending habits.

In one study, a theoretical model for assessing the impact of gamification on purchasing behaviour is developed. It builds on a thing called ‘cognitive evaluation theory’ (or CET for short), that explains when people are involved in certain activities that draw on their needs, this will trigger intrinsic motivation and will boost their feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction.

In the case of gamification, this tool draws on willpower and motivation to provide positive feelings to consumers.

What keeps them coming back isn’t just the act of purchasing another product, it’s the feeling of enjoyment they simultaneously receive from the gamified shopping process (e.g. earning loyalty points or going into the draw to win a prize).

And other academic articles back this up, revealing that consumers find greater meaning from activities that deliver feelings of enjoyment.

Plus, this research reveals that the more enjoyment we feel from these gamification elements during the eCommerce experience, the greater chance we have of making a purchase from a brand.

What’s the impact of social media marketing on purchase intention?

Social media gives brands instant access to their ideal customers. Every post a business shares gives them the opportunity to provide value to audiences, show the benefits of their products and services and ultimately build trust with potential customers.

Plus, social media acts as an extension of a brand’s customer service team. From responding to reviews to fielding common customer questions, social media bridges the gap between audiences and brands by allowing for immediate feedback and two-way conversations.

A number of studies have pointed to the important role social media plays in influencing purchase intent.

One study concluded that social media’s ability to build engaged communities and allow the sharing of social proof made a significant contribution to consumer’s purchase intent.

And another piece of research highlights that social media marketing’s ability to build trust through valuable, tailored content is key to shaping purchase intent among their audience.

So, let’s break down the three key ways social media marketing can influence purchase intent.

Social media builds trust with potential customers

Social media is a trust-building platform for brands. It allows businesses to humanise their business, share valuable information with potential customers and use education to win their loyalty.

And trust is an essential ingredient in purchasing behaviour. Studies show that the more consumers trust a brand, the more likely they are to purchase from them.

So let’s break this down:

Social media marketing is a tool used by brands to build trust.

Trust is an essential ingredient in predicting buyer behaviour (a.k.a. purchase intent).

Therefore, social media marketing is a powerful tool for influencing purchase intent through its ability to build trust with potential customers.

Social media boosts the impact of social proof

Social media offers the unique opportunity for brands to harness reviews, feedback and testimonials from their customers. Rather than simply relying on their own marketing to do the heavy lifting, social media unlocks the power of digital word of mouth to boost purchase intent among audiences.

And here’s why: 81% of consumers’ purchasing choices are influenced by what their friends and family post on social media, according to Forbes.

Consumers trust the opinion of their own network (and the opinions of past customers) and use this to vet and compare potential brands when deciding where to make a purchase.

And there are stacks of ways to do this on social media, including:

  • Reviewing a brand’s tagged photos to see a how a products looks and performs in a real world context
  • Browsing Facebook and Google reviews for a brand to assess the experience other customers have had with the business
  • Exploring user-generated content on social media through hashtags to see what other users have to say about their experience and the quality of the offering

And that’s where the value of influencer marketing comes in. Studies have shown that social media influencers who are deemed as authentic, trustworthy and credible can have a big influence on customer’s online purchasing habits.

In many cases, high-profile influencers are viewed as experts in their particular field (whether that’s beauty, fashion, fitness or beyond). That means they can have a significant sway on the decisions of their followers, with recent stats from Nielsen revealing that 70% of consumers trust expert opinions they read online when making their next purchase.

Those brands that effectively harness the power of influencer marketing can tap into these engaged pools of consumers and help to shape their purchase intent. The secret to getting this right is to team up with influencers that are seen as credible and trustworthy in order to have the maximum impact on their pool of followers.

Social media streamlines the path-to-purchase

Last, but not least, is the ability of social media to shorten the customer journey.

In the days before social media and online marketing, businesses would rely on offline advertising and customers visiting physical shopfronts or retailers to secure their products.

Now, this journey from product discovery to purchase can take minutes (not months).

In fact, research by Deloitte has found that 29% of social media users have reported making a purchase from a brand on the same day they’ve discovered it on social media. Plus, this same report reveals that those who are influenced by social media are four times more likely to spend more on purchases.

This act of streamlining the path-to-purchase means brands can easily and effectively guide users from discovery to conversion using strategic social media content.

Plus, the rise of social media’s shoppable features mean that it’s now possible for audiences to discover, view and buy new products or services in just a few taps. With less friction in the conversion process, audiences are able to act on impulse and convert more quickly than ever before.

How to use social media to influence purchase intent

Now we’ve explored the theory behind social media marketing and purchase intent, let’s arm you with five practical strategies to use social platforms to your advantage.

Encourage and reshare valuable social proof

Build valuable trust with your audience by giving your customers a platform to advocate for your brand in their own words. The act of resharing user-generated content is an incredible tool for shaping purchase intent as it leverages credible content from real-world people to attest to the value of your products and services,

Alongside your existing content pillars, make sure to make resharing social proof part of your social media strategy. Some of the most effective examples of this content include:

  • User-generated content: such as images and video that capture your products and services in the wild and being used by your past customers
  • Testimonials: these could can be found in your social media DMs, in your inbox or even in the comments or captions of social media posts from your customers
  • Reviews: dive into your Facebook and Google reviews (or leverage tools such as Product Review or Trustpilot) to gather valuable feedback that you can leverage and reshare on your own social channels

And when it comes to encouraging your customers to share user-generated content on social media, here are a few strategies to try:

  • Run competitions that incentivise the sharing of UGC with the chance to win a prize.
  • Encourage the sharing of UGC by plugging a branded hashtag on your website or email newsletters.
  • Regularly reshare UGC to your social channels and add a call-to-action to the caption calling out for your audience to be featured by publishing content using a branded hashtag.

Build educational content in your social media strategy = provide value to build trust

Educating your audience is a powerful way to build trust on social media, which will ultimately boost their purchase intent, too. When designing your social media strategy, make sure to develop a range of content pillars that focus on informing and educating your followers about your areas of expertise.

Some practical ways to educate your audience on social media include:

  • Host live streamed classes or tutorials teaching your followers a new skill.
  • Share an Instagram carousel with 5 tips about how to overcome a common audience pain point they face.
  • Design an engaging infographic that breaks down an important news story or peice of research that is valuable to your audience.

The more value you can provide to your audience, the more likely they are to see you as a leader in your space (and the greater chance you’ll have of boosting their purchase intent).

Protect your brand’s reputation with proactive community management

Your brand’s social media channels are where potential customers come when deciding whether or not to spend with you. That means you need to safeguard your brand’s reputation with a carefully managed online presence that leaves a positive impression on potential customers.

In order to do this, you need to prioritise proactive community management of your social channels, including:

  • Responding to all reviews (both positive and negative) in a timely manner, and leaving public comments that offer practical ways to resolve any complaints or criticism that come your way.
  • Ensuring all user comments and tagged posts are acknowledged by your brand’s social accounts and responded to in an appropriate and engaging way.
  • Conduct social listening of your brand across different social platforms to monitor the sentiment of conversation and join into any discussion where appropriate to ensure your brand is visible and able to respond quickly,

Leverage the benefits of influencer marketing

As we mentioned, influencer marketing can be a fantastic way to align your brand with trusted influencers and expand your reach with new, relevant audiences on social media.

According to Linqia’s The State of Influencer Marketing survey, an impressive 94% of respondents who use influencer marketing believe it to be an effective tactic.

When it comes to succeeding at influencer marketing, it’s important to consider:

  • The overall objectives of your influencer strategy and the key messages you want each influencer to communicate.
  • Ensure you find the right influencers for your brand who share regular high-quality content, are authentic and have an engaged audience pool who are likely to be interested in your brand.
  • Having clear guidelines and expectations from the beginning (including content review and approval processes) to ensure you safeguard your brand’s image and reputation.

Design social content that helps streamline the path-to-purchase

On social media, users can make a purchase within just a few taps. But, your brand still needs to craft content that inspires and encourages conversion.

In practical terms, it’s all about designing social media posts that aid the path to purchase and address any reservations that might be stopping them from making a purchase.

This includes:

  • Sharing case studies or client success stories that showcase the transformation you’ve helped clients or customers achieve.
  • Designing posts that emphasise the key benefits of your product or service and how they solve your audience’s problems and help them reach their goals.
  • Provide cost or competitor comparisons that help users to easier evaluate your brand against other key competitors to streamline their research process.

So, that’s a wrap. When it comes to using social media marketing to influence purchase intent, it’s all about understanding how to build trust, showcase social proof and streamline the audience’s path to purchase.

By creating delightful user experiences on social media, leveraging handpicked influencers and being proactive about community management, you can turn your brand’s social media platforms into a conversion-driving engine that will drive audiences through the buyer journey on auto-pilot.

Photo of Kyra GoodmanKyra Goodman

Kyra is a Junior Marketing Manager and "Spicy Meme Master" at Sked Social who loves to create content. Born and raised in Hawaii, her favorite things are traveling, yoga, beaching, coffee and baseball. Connect with her on twitter at @kyra_n_goodman.

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