Millennials Drive Social Commerce: Turning Their Likes, Follows or Pins Into a Sale

Conducted By: 
Nora Ganim Barnes, Ava M. Lescault,


Center for Marketing Research
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth



Social commerce is a term used to describe marketing strategies that incorporate social media to facilitate online buying and selling of products and services.  (Yahoo first used the term in 2005 in a launch of a new online shopping store).  Spurred by the proliferation of electronic commerce, social commerce strategies are not just solely designed around click-to-buy action.  Rather, these strategies provide a virtual way for companies to attract, engage and interact with consumers at all points in the consumer buying decision process.  The advent of mobile technology has further encouraged social commerce, changing how users interact with and purchase from different companies.

It is estimated that Millennials will have a combined purchasing power of $2.45 trillion world wide by 2015.  This buying will be carried out online and in stores.  At this time, tracking meaningful social commerce conversions tied to user behavior is at its early stages.  While we can assume that social interactions in the form on online reviews, posts, forums and recommendations is driving some purchasing, documenting the scope of this activity and final channel for purchases is difficult. 

The driving force behind social commerce can be attributed to the Millennial generation’s penchant for social media.  Numbering 76 million strong, Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are defined as the demographic cohort born between 1980 and 2000.  Their size and combined purchasing power make Millennials a necessary market segment for the future success of most companies. 

However, unlike past generations, Millennials are not influenced by traditional ‘push’ marketing strategies.  Born and raised in the age of technology, Millennials consume information when and how they want to.  This has grave implications for companies who cannot adapt their marketing strategies quickly enough to capture and capitalize on their intermittent attention.  Social media has provided companies with valuable tools to attract and engage Millennials on their own terms.  However, despite the prevalence of social media, it remains a relatively new phenomenon.  To this extent, companies are still experimenting with the most effective ways to reach their end consumers through social commerce strategies.

Two significant white papers were released in 2013 on social commerce.  Neither focused specifically on Millennials.  Business Insider (The Rise of Social Commerce) concluded that “…one of the obstacles holding back social commerce has been the inherent friction in the buying process and the lack of intelligent buy now features incorporated directly into the social conversion.”  Their data comes from retailer tracking codes where sales are attributed to referrals from social media.

Vision Critical (From Social to Sales) surveyed 5,900 consumers with 4 online surveys from February to June of 2013.  Their respondents are age 18-55+.   They looked at social inspired purchasing on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and concluded that social media is driving a substantial volume of social influenced purchasing both in-store and online. 

When possible, the study presented here will be compared with the findings of both white papers, demonstrating significant differences between Millennials and the general population with regard to social commerce.

This study, conducted by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is an in-depth look at current purchasing habits and trends of Millennials using three of the most widely used social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest).  In an effort to discern what turns a like, follow or pin into a sale, this study explores and analyzes lead conversion tactics as identified by Millennials themselves.  Also included is a look at mobile technology and its role in online purchasing by measuring percentage of sales conducted through smart phones versus tablets.


Highlights of the study include:

  • Facebook is the most popular platform among Millennials when looking to interact with companies/brands online.  62% of respondents currently like at least one brand on Facebook.  Twitter has 23% of respondents following a brand and Pinterest has 11% of Millennials pinning a brand (Nike is the most liked/followed brand).
  • Across all platforms, the top reason why Millennials ‘like/follow/pin’ is to support a brand.  Being unlike any other generation, Millennials pick and choose not only which information they will be exposed to, but also how the information is delivered.  By liking/following/pinning a particular brand they support, Millennials are customizing their exposure to advertising based on their preferences.
  • Of those who reported they had never purchased something after liking, following or pinning it online, offering a coupon or discount was the most frequently cited lead conversion tactic for Millennials.  Respondents indicated this is the top motivator leading to a sale.  Similarly, Millennials indicated that companies giving exclusive offers or appealing to their interests were more likely to see an increase in sales as a result of online interaction.
  • Relative to users of larger platforms, Pinterest has the highest sales conversion rate.   The user-friendly highly visual design of the website facilitates information search and evaluation of alternatives.  Pinterest makes the transaction process flow with optimal ease for consumers. 
  • Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest contribute to both online and in-store purchasing.  Seventy-seven percent of Facebook users, 66% of Twitter users and 63% of Pinterest users are multi-channel shoppers.



This study was conducted via a comprehensive survey available in both digital and physical form for distribution.  Qualification for participation required the respondent to be a member of the Millennial generation, using the popular demographic for this group of having been born between 1980-2000.  The surveys were hosted on online and the URL was shared online by channels including, but not limited to, email, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  All data was collected during the fall of 2013.  A total of 576 surveys provide the basis for this report. 

In an effort to identify the link between online interest and related purchases, respondents were asked detailed questions about their social media decisions.  The survey was divided by the platforms Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Respondents were first asked if they currently follow any companies or brands on that platform.  If they did not, or indicated they did not have an account on that site, respondents were instructed to move to the next section.  

For those that did qualify, questions were asked relating to respondents’ motivations for following a company online and if they ever made a purchase resulting from their online experience.  Respondents were asked to classify their purchases by platform and product category.  Millennials were also asked to indicate what a company would have to do in order to convert their like/follow/pin into a sale. 

The 576 respondents in this study are diverse.  They represent 32 US states and 21 people (4%) residing outside the US.  There is nearly an even split in respondents’ gender with 49% male and 51% female.  The youngest Millennials, those 13-17, make up 13% of this study, 38% are between 18-22, 34% are between 23-27 and 15% are in the upper range of 28-33.


1a. Online Liking, Following and Pinning Behavior

When looking to interact with companies or brands online, Facebook is the most popular platform among Millennials, followed by Twitter and Pinterest.

Millenials Social Commerce Image 1   

1b. Top Companies/Brands ‘Liked’ on Facebook

Among their top 5 choices, clothing retailers represent the companies/brands Millennials most “like” on Facebook.  Nike takes the lead, with Target and Forever 21 also in the top five.  Apple, earns second place among Millennials and Starbucks ranks fourth 

    1. Nike
    2. Apple
    3. Target
    4. Starbucks
    5. Forever 21

1c. Top Companies/Brands ‘Followed’ on Twitter

Millennials predominantly follow sports related accounts on Twitter.  Championing across platforms, Nike remains the most “followed” brand.  Starbucks is the only top 5 Twitter favorite that is not sports related for this cohort.

    1. Nike
    2. ESPN
    3. Starbucks
    4. National Football League
    5. National Hockey League


2. Lead Generation

When asking Facebook users why they like a company/brand, 86% of respondents said it is to support the brand they like. Seventy-eight percent said receiving regular updates from brands they like is important. Sixty-four percent of respondents said it was to get a coupon or discount on their next purchase.

The top three reasons why Twitter users follow a company or brand on Twitter are identical to those reported by Facebook users.

When asking Pinterest users why they pin something from a company/brand, supporting the brand remains the top reason.  After that, the focus becomes sharing and researching brands. Interestingly, 75% of Pinterest users are using the site to share their personal interests/lifestyle with others. Forty-four percent of Facebook users selected that particular reason for liking a company and 42% of Twitter users for following a company. While Facebook and Twitter users like and follow brands in a more passive way, Pinterest users pin brands specifically to share the brand or product with others as part of their personal lifestyle.






To support the brand




To receive regular updates from brands




To get a coupon or discount




To research brands when I was looking for specific products/services




Seeing my friends are already a fan, follower or have a board




To share my interests/lifestyle with others




To participate in contests




A brand advertisement on TV, online or in print led me to like the brand




Someone recommended me to like, follow or pin the brand




To share my personal good experiences









3. Lead Conversion across Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest

Companies have long been trying to understand how to convert traffic to their social media sites into sales.  Millennials in this study indicated across Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, that those companies offering coupons or discounts in exchange for a like/follow/pin would be more likely to see an increase in sales. Other popular responses included exclusive offers, free products, and more directed advertising.


4. Purchasing Habits as a Result of Social Media Exposure

When it comes to social mediated purchasing, Pinterest resonates with Millennials.  Forty-seven percent of respondents with Pinterest accounts said they had purchased something online after pinning it – a 9% and 14% increase over those with Facebook and Twitter accounts, respectively.


Comparison of Recent Studies on Purchasing After Liking/Following/Pinning*

Source of Study




University of MA




Business Insider




Vision Critical




*The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study focused solely on Millennials 

 Millenials Social Commerce Image 2

5. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest Purchases by Category

Of those purchases made after sharing something online, Millennials clearly prefer to buy things in the category of  “Hair, Beauty and Apparel”.  This is the category where the most purchases were made across the three platforms studied accounting for approximately half of all purchases.

On Facebook, Technology/Electronics was the second most socially influenced purchase category with 18% coming from this category. On Twitter, it is Food and Drink (21%) while Pinterest users are likely to buy Art, Design, DIY, Crafts and Photography products (23%) as a result of online social influence. 


Social Influenced Purchasing By Category

Purchase Category




Food & Drink




Art & Design, DIY, Photography, Crafts




Gardening & Décor




Hair & Beauty, Apparel




Tech & Electronics









 6. Millennials as Multi-Channel Shoppers

Of those respondents who answered ‘yes’ to purchasing only through a social media site, Pinterest ranks highest among social media platforms studied in lead conversion.  Twitter earns second place with 18% of those with accounts making purchases through the site and Facebook comes in third with 10%.  As Amazon has aptly displayed, consumers will click to buy when it’s relatively effortless.  This is especially true of a casual shopper looking at a product as the result of a social recommendation.  Social media networking sites that involve too many intermediate steps before they can click to purchase, will lose ecommerce business.

Some social influenced Millennials shop exclusively in stores.  Sixteen percent of Twitter users purchase in-store only as compared to 13% for Pinterest and 12% for Facebook.  All three platforms contribute to both online and in-store purchasing.  Seventy-seven percent of Facebook users purchase both online and in-store as well as 66% of Twitter users and 63% of Pinterest users.

When it comes to ecommerce conversions triggered by social media, both online and in-store retailers benefit.  One in ten Facebook purchasers report using only the online channel.  Twelve percent use only in store retailers while over three quarters use both channels.  This pattern is repeated with Twitter and Pinterest purchases although the Pinterest users are the most likely of the 3 platforms to buy exclusively online.  The ease of purchasing, along with its new tools like “rich pins” for automatic updates and price drop notification on pinned items, makes Pinterest an attractive online buying site. Millennials are definitely multi-channel shoppers.

 Millenials Social Commerce Image 3

7. Percentage of Total Purchases Made Through Smart Phones/Tablets

With the continued growth of mobile computing, purchases are increasingly being made through mobile devices.  This study looked at buying behavior of Millennials through smart phones or tablets.  Half of Millennials who make social motivated purchases do so through their smart phones.  One in four Millennials report using a tablet for these purchases.  Clearly, mobile is an important factor in the social commerce movement among this generation.

Millenials Social Commerce Image 4  

8. How Much Millennials Spend

Average Order Value by Platform

Source of Study




University of MA








*The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study focused solely on Millennials

This study parallels one by Monetate in which the average order value on Pinterest led all social referrers.  Facebook was second and Twitter third.  Given that the University of MA study focuses on Millennials, it is obvious that these young consumers are making more social influenced purchases than than older counterparts.

9. Internet User Identification

When asking respondents what type of internet user category they fall into, the majority, with 39% claimed to be a functional user, using the internet as a tool for shopping, organizing, notifying and information.  The following definitions for each type of user were given to help Millennials in best identifying themselves online:


Functional User

Use internet as tool for shopping, organizing, notifying and information


Spend most of your time connecting with friends, family, sharing content

Casual Participant

Check in periodically with family and friends or make an occasional purchase

Content Producer

Constantly creates new content, blogs, uploads video


When asked which of the above best described how they use the internet, all of the Millennials in our study except the 13-17 year olds choose the Functional User.  The focus was shopping and information seeking.  The youngest group however, was more likely to choose the Connector/Sharer.  For these teens, connecting and sharing with family and friends is the prime focus of their internet activity.  It is interesting to note that Millennials are not content producers.  They are not likely to blog or upload video and only 1 in 5 describes themselves as a “casual participant.

Millenials Social Commerce Image 1


Millennials are leading the social commerce movement.  They are more likely than any other group to like/follow/pin companies and brands.  They are enticed by coupons and discounts, purchase hair/beauty products and apparel, often using mobile phones and tablets.  They are multi-channel shoppers, buying both online and in-store.  This cohort is active online in ways that allow them to connect, organize, stay informed and shop.  They spend more money on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest than other groups making them the ones to watch as social commerce surges forward.


About the Authors

Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph. D. 

Nora Ganim Barnes is a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Nora has worked as a consultant for many national and international firms.  Working closely with businesses in the Northeast US, Nora and her students have provided marketing research assistance to hundreds of small businesses.

She has published articles in academic and professional journals and proceedings, has contributed chapters to books, and has been awarded numerous research grants. Her work has been covered online and in print by Business Week, the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Computer World, Time Magazine and the Harvard Business Review among others. She has been named Co-chair of Research by the Society for New Communications Research.

Dr. Barnes is a frequent speaker at corporate meetings and keynote at conferences.

She can be reached at

Ava M. Lescault, MBA

Ava M. Lescault is Senior Research Associate and Associate Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Ava graduated from UMass Dartmouth with a BS in Marketing and a Master's Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing Research. She recently completed a Certificate in Marketing Research from the University of Georgia.  Ava has worked on approximately twenty-five extensive research projects and is a published author. Her clients include the cranberry industry, the shellfish industry, a national juice manufacturer, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and a Fortune 500 company. She was the first person to hold the position of Senior Research Associate in the Center.

Ava can be reached at 



The authors wish to acknowledge the work of Stephanie Wright, Kayleen Pereira, MBA candidates and the students in the Social Media Marketing class at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, in the data collection and preparation of this report.




Millennials Drive Social Commerce: Turning Their Likes, Follows or Pins Into a Sale (DOCX)

Millennials Drive Social Commerce: Turning Their Likes, Follows or Pins Into a Sale (Infographics)