It is clear that social media play a significant role in a contemporary person’s life. The study that we conducted was aimed at understanding the correlation between face-to-face communication and communication via devices and social media between people while they were buying things in big shops. This paper goes over the methodological aspects of our study and provides a summary of what we have learned about social psychological research while conducting it. It also sums up the conclusions of the study itself. The further implications of our research are also expounded; some responses to the influence of social media are suggested, and areas for subsequent research are proposed.
Methodological Aspects of our Study and What We Have Learned about Social Psychological Research
While conducting our study, we were able to understand the methods of social psychology more deeply and apply them in practice (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012, p. 39-59). We chose the observational data collection method and performed direct (recording naturally occurring behaviors and categorizing them), nonparticipant (not intervening in the course of actions) observation of customers in a particular setting (big shops). Such observation enabled us to perceive the client’s natural behavior in the shop environment. The independent (manipulated) variable was the gender of customers, whereas the dependent variables (the correlation between which was observed) comprised the amount of communicating face-to-face and the amount of communicating via devices, for we needed to establish the correlation between these two types of communication.
The research design we applied was descriptive; we observed the changes in variables and summarized the findings. The research was mixed (i.e., qualitative and quantitative at the same time), for we wanted to compare the amount of communicating via devices to the amount of communicating face-to-face, at the same time attempting to note the content of both types of communication. We also realized the importance of keeping to the principles of research ethics, and only observed the behaviors that were practiced publicly; on the whole, the researcher was only different from other people in the shop in the amount of attention paid to customers.
Regarding our analysis of the content of social media, most of these characteristics remained the same, though the dependent variables were the quantity and the quality (positive/negative opinion) of posted comments. Concerning the setting, we observed customers’ reactions in social networks, primarily on the accounts of big shops and malls. As for ethics, we only worked with those comments that were open to the public and did not pry into any personal information which might be contained in the networks.
The usage of the named methods and principles has allowed us to understand them more deeply, and it is clear that the next time we conduct a study, the methodological part will be quite familiar to us.
Summary of the Research Conclusions
As a result of our research, we were able to reach some important conclusions. For instance, it is evident that the representatives of both sexes can be accompanied by friends in shops, but females are accompanied more often. Moreover, males tend to extract information on products via the Internet using their devices and make the decision themselves, while females usually would rather consult with the shop assistant or ask their friends’ opinions (personally or via their devices) to get advice and assistance with making the decision. (This is supported by Kraft and Weber (2012), who highlight that men often elicit information about products online, while women tend to get the information from sellers.) Therefore, it is clear that both men and women use devices while buying goods in shops.
We have also found out that people use devices while buying goods regardless of whether they are accompanied by friends or not. Therefore, it is evident that communication via devices is extremely popular nowadays. It has replaced face-to-face communication, but to a certain extent only. They are also often combined; people who have a company of friends still use their devices to get more data or advice.
While analyzing social media, we were also able to reach the conclusion that customers often leave feedback in social network accounts of shops or malls. Clients might even tag their friends in some cases if they wanted to recommend a good product to someone who might be interested in it, but this did not happen often. Negative comments were present as well, but they disappeared after some time, which means that the shops were monitoring their accounts. The latter fact prevented us from clearly identifying which comments prevailed – positive or negative. However, we were able to determine that both positive and negative feedback in social media have an influence. It is hard to say exactly which one is stronger, but it might be assumed that negative comments in most cases cause a stronger reaction than positive ones, for the former ones cause an emphatic feeling of indignation about low-quality service and the wish to warn others, whereas the latter ones might be perceived as an advertisement and, therefore, are not very often shared.
It is also possible to note that the social context had an important influence on customers. For instance, it was okay for them to try on clothes and make “selfies” to post them online or send them to friends, whereas in some other cultures, it might have been considered unacceptable. The nature of relationships with friends led customers to ask for the friends’ opinions. The fact that some of the clients came to shops with friends and spent there some time indicates that they might have been spending their leisure while doing so. This also shows that they are a part of particular social groups and classes, for the poor or the extremely wealthy would be unlikely to spend their free time this way. Therefore, it should be concluded that the social context significantly shaped the behaviors of customers.
The Implications of Our Study
Synthesizing the theoretical data about the nature of social psychological research, we conducted our own study that allows us to better understand the phenomenon of online communication and utilize this understanding in marketing strategies. Our study has some important implications; while they mainly support already identified trends, they also add some details to the already existing knowledge. For instance, Correa, Hinsley, and De Zúňiga (2010) note that personal traits and not gender plays a significant role in the frequency of the usage of social media; we were able to notice that both males and females used their devices in shops as well.
Rapp, Beitelspacher, Grewal, and Hughes (2013) stress that social media might have a significant influence on people’s behavior (customers’ behavior included). One of the implications of our study suggests some reasoned responses to this influence. Indeed, because women pay much attention to their friends’ opinions, it might be effective to use word-of-mouth to advertise products intended for women. On the other hand, since men tend to look for information about products online, it is better to make detailed information about goods aimed at men available on the Internet, for it is clear that they would prefer to buy the products they know enough about in order to ensure that the product is of high quality.
Also, we were able to find out that both positive and negative online feedback from customers has some influence. We already reasoned that negative comments are likely to cause a stronger reaction than positive ones. The same was noted by Pfeffer, Zorbach, and Carley (2014), who researched the phenomenon of online firestorms. This implies that companies should be careful and avoid negative feedback posted online.
Therefore, it is possible to suggest conducting more detailed research on the influence of online feedback on clients. It also might be offered to carry out a quantitative research to find out a more exact ratio of face-to-face communication to communication via devices and analyze the influence of social media on our lives in more detail.
To sum up, it should be noted that, while conducting our study, we were able to learn to use social psychological methodological tools in practice. The research allowed us to reach a number of conclusions about how customers utilize devices and face-to-face communication while buying goods in big shops. We found that 1) representatives of both sexes can be accompanied by friends in big shops; 2) both males and females can use devices even when accompanied by friends; 3) men usually extract information about products online, while women tend to ask for advice; 4) both positive and negative feedback in social media influences clients’ choices; 5) social context has an important influence on customers. Our study implies that 1) word-of-mouth should be effective while advertising products for females, whereas information about goods for males, should be available online; 2) companies should endeavor to avoid negative comments online. We can further suggest conducting detailed research on the influence of online feedback on clients, as well as a study of the exact ratio of face-to-face communication to communication via devices.
Correa, T., Hinsley, A.W., & De Zúňiga, H.G. (2010). Who interacts on the Web? The intersection of users’ personality and social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(2), 247-253.
Kraft, H., & Weber, J.M. (2012). A look at gender differences and marketing implications. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(21), 247-253.
Pfeffer, J., Zorbach, T., & Carley, K. M. (2014). Understanding online firestorms: Negative word-of-mouth dynamics in social media networks. Journal of Marketing Communications, 20(1-2), 117-128. doi:10.1080/13527266.2013.797778
Rapp, A., Beitelspacher, L. S., Grewal, D., & Hughes, D. E. (2013). Understanding social media effects across seller, retailer, and consumer interactions. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41(5), 547-566.
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.