Less than half a percent of people who “like” a brand actually engage around it

Engagement has become a buzzword in marketing these days, but how well are we actually engaging with customers?  Shockingly litte, according to a study by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, an Australia-based marketing think tankwhich identifies a huge gap between engagement theory and engagement execution. The study shows that less than 1% of fans of the biggest brands on Facebook actually engage with these brands online.

These findings are based on the Facebook  metric titled “People Talking About This,” which tracks likes, posts, comments, tags, shares and other ways that users interact with branded pages. Analyzing this metric as a proportion of overall fan growth of the top 200 brands on Facebook over a six-week period in October 2011, researchers found the percentage of People Talking About This to overall fans was 1.3%. Subtracting new likes, which only require a click, and isolating for more engaged forms of interaction, you’re left within only 0.45%. Did “passion brands” or those with large fan bases fare better? Looking at 10 passion brands — including Nike, Old Spice, Harley-Davidson, Porsche,  Ford Mustang, Jack Daniels and Tiffany & Co. — the researchers found an average engagement of 0.66%. The average engagement for the 10 brands with the largest fan bases was 0.36%.


The role of mass media is broad reach.  Brand growth is attained not by reaching a few loyal fans but a larger number of light and medium buyers. Social media is useful for its reach rather than engagement.  In AdAge article by Matthew Creamer about this, Karen Nelson-Field, senior research associate for Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, says:

People need to understand what it can do for a brand and what it can’t do. Facebook doesn’t really differ from mass media. It’s great to get decent reach, but to change the way people interact with a brand overnight is just unrealistic…Don’t be putting a disproportionate amount of effort into engagement and strategies to get people to talk about a brand, when you should be spending more time getting more light buyers.”

In another study, Karen Nelson-Field used web-based consumer panels to examine the behavior of Facebook fans of two repeat-purchased brands in the food categories. She found a much greater occurrence of heavy buyers in the Facebook population than in a more general population. However, the study also found that purchase frequency didn’t increase after someone became a fan. This indicates that Facebook fan bases naturally skew toward heavy buyers rather than the more casual shoppers that  brands need to reach in order to grow.  Accordingly, Facebook provides an audience of loyal fans that are good for market research and word-of-mouth advocacy.

Only one brand of the entire 200 analyzed in the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute study got an engagement level of 2%, and only a few over 1%. So, when it comes to investment, how cost-effective is it really to attempt to engage twice as many fans? Is the variation worth the outlay, given the most you could expect is just over 1%?”

Marketing is not an Engagement Strategy

Brands may be under the illusion that Facebook brand pages, ‘likes’, and posts promoting short term contests are the key to long-term social media strategy.  Klout scores do not supersede the fundamental need to make people want to connect and engage with the *people* behind the brand. Marketing is not an engagement strategy, but part of a customer acquisition/retention strategy. Rather than rely on such passive strategies, you need to be on top of what your customers are saying, requesting, complaining about, and sharing. According to Suzie Parker of Sparker Strategy Group:

Business needs to view this relationship with the deep value and the care it deserves. This begins with owning the ongoing conversations within the social media space. There are simple ways to integrate social media into your current business with your own people. It’s as easy as listening, and interacting with customers the way you would want to be treated. It is not rocket science, but still so few find the simplicity elusive. If you were invited to attend a networking event where you could mix and mingle with some of the most powerful people in your industry would you send an emissary or robot in your place? Exactly. Your customers ARE the power brokers. They are the reason you stay in business. Put them (and your employees) at the center of all you do as a business and seize every opportunity to interact with your power brokers. Your business—longevity, success, and future–depends on it.

Keep Social Media Real

Sparker puts forth 4 simple tenets to keeping it  R E A L in social media,  a mnemonic tool that helps you keep your goal in focus as you craft a social media voice:

  1. R E L E V A N T: Talk about things relevant to your brand, expertise or topics that interest/appeal to your audience. This provides a broad scope of topics that you can manipulate to tell your brand story and share brand values while conversing with your audience about timely issues.
  2. E N G A G I N G: We’ve all been to a dinner party where we’re seated next to someone who talks solely about him/herself. Not fun, huh? To be successful with social media, your voice must be engaging…Social media is about dialogue, not broadcast or monologue—so ask compelling questions formulated to elicit answers that provide insight into what your customers want more of. Then deliver it.
  3. A U T H E N T I C: Does your social media voice actively reflect what your brand represents? If someone reads one of your tweets or posts can they “tell” it’s yours because it “sounds” like you? Speak in an authentic  voice that best mirrors your brand values and is sincere. Transparency and disclosure are key where appropriate also. Cultivating a voice of authenticity will build a solid brand reputation and assure your customers you are a brand to be trusted and supported.
  4. L I V I N G: How many times have you tweeted a brand or individual or attempted to post to their Facebook page and discovered their last post was in 2009? Once you take the leap into social media, craft a plan and keep the brand voice alive by regularly posting to your platforms and keeping it alive with new content and ideas. Constantly fine-tune your strategy and tactics (they are different) to find what works.

The Role of Social Media Engagement in Your Brand and Marketing Plan

Creating a compelling, enticing social media presence means bearing in mind that it is a long-term gain strategy that will benefit you if you desire to be responsive to and better serve the needs and wants of your audience. It is not a substitute for marketing strategy, but an important component that can inform it, compliment it, and help you develop a brand based on service and value.

Suzie Parker points out why you can’t afford to ignore social media:

Sure it may not happen immediately, but an aversion to learning more about your customers, a fear of hearing what your customer are saying about your company, and an unwillingness to interact where your customers are spending a majority of their time will slowly but surely chip away at brand equity and customer loyalty The brands and companies actively pursuing social, and proactively seeking meaningful ways to engage with customers and prospects will triumph in the long run.

Snap Principle of Social Media engagement:

Use Social Media to keep your finger on the pulse of and dialogue with your customer base.