3 Ways Retailers Use Facebook to Get Into Your Head - and Wallet

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.

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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.

9 Scary Ways Criminals Use Facebook
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3 Ways Retailers Use Facebook to Get Into Your Head - and Wallet

When criminals hack a Facebook account, they typically use one of several available "brute force" tools, says Grayson Milbourne, Webroot's manager of threat research for North America. These tools cycle through a common password dictionary, and try commonly used names and dates, targeting hundreds of thousands of different email IDs. Once hacked, an account can be used as a platform to deliver spam, or -- more commonly -- sold. Clandestine hacker forums are crawling with ads offering Facebook account IDs and passwords in exchange for money. In the cyber world, information is a valuable thing.

Commandeering occurs when a criminal logs on to someone else's account using an illegally obtained ID and password. Once online, they have the victim's entire friend list at their disposal and a trusted cyber-identity. The impostor can then run a variety of confidence schemes, such as the popular "London scam," in which the "friend" claims to be stranded overseas and in need of money to make it home. The London scam has a far higher success rate on Facebook -- and specifically on commandeered accounts -- because there is a baseline of trust between users and those on their friends lists.

Profile cloning is the act of using unprotected images and information to create a Facebook account with the same name and details of an existing user. The cloner then sends friend requests to all of the victim's contacts, who will likely accept them, as they appear to be from someone they know. Those accepted friend requests give the con artist access to his new "friends'"  personal information, which can be used to clone other profiles or to commit fraud.

As Grayson Milbourne puts it, "Exploiting a person's account and posturing as that person is just another clever mechanism to use to extract information." Perhaps what's scariest about this kind of crime is its simplicity. Hacking acumen is unnecessary to clone a profile; the criminal simply needs a Facebook account.

Cross-platform profile cloning is when a cyber criminal obtains information and images from Facebook and uses them to create false profiles on another social-networking site, or vice versa.

Because the profile is often cloned to a social networking platform that the victim doesn't use, this kind of fraud may also take longer to notice and remedy.

Phishing on Facebook usually involves a hacker posing as a familiar individual or respectable organization, and asking for a user's personal data, usually via a wall post or direct message.

Often, users will be directed to click on a link. Once they do so, their computer may be infected with malware, or they may be directed to a website that offers a compelling reason to divulge sensitive information.

A classic example would be a site that congratulates its victims for having won $1,000 and prompts them to fill out a form to collect their prize -- a form that requests credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers, which can then be used by the fraudsters.

Also becoming increasing common, warns Milbourne: "spearphishing," a practice that uses the same basic idea but targets users through their individual interests.

In this common con, the scammers direct users via some sort of clickable enticement to a convincing, but spurious, Facebook log-in page. When the victims enter their usernames and passwords, they are collected in a database, to be used by the original scammer or resold to other criminals.

Once scammers have a user's login information, they can take advantage of the identity through apps like Facebook Marketplace. Posing as a reputable user lets the scammer capitalize on the trust that his victim has earned to sell fake goods and services, or promote brands they have been paid to advertise.

In affinity fraud, con artists assume the identities of people in order to exploit the trust of those close to them to steal money or information. Facebook facilitates this type of fraud because people on the social network often end up having a number of "friends" they actually do not know personally and yet implicitly trust.

Criminals can infiltrate a person's group of friends and then offer someone deals or investments that are part of a con. They can also assume an identity by hacking into a person's account and asking their friends to wire them money, or give them sensitive information like a Social Security or credit card number.

Few sites provide an easier source of basic personal information than Facebook. While it is possible to keep all personal information on Facebook private, users frequently reveal their email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and other pieces of private data. As security experts and hackers know, this kind of information often finds its way into passwords or answers to "secret" security questions. While the majority of unprotected information is mined for targeted advertising, it can be a used for more pernicious ends such as profile cloning and, ultimately, identity theft.

Most mass email advertisements are legal, if annoying. However, the growth of social networking has allowed for a new kind of spam called clickjacking. Clickjacking uses an advertisement for a viral video or article as an inducement to click on a link. Once clicked, the link sends the user to a page that tricks them into taking actions that they don't realize they are doing, such as sending an advertisement to all their friends' walls, buying an item via a concealed page, or revealing personal data.  This has become such an issue for Facebook that earlier this year, the company  teamed up with the U.S. Attorney General to try to combat the problem.


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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