Why 99.5% of Facebook “Likers” Don’t Interact With Brands

I've posted before about my belief that social media for brands is more about communication than conversation. New research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute (EBI) backs this up, as reported in an Advertising Age article.

Screen Shot 2012-02-21 at 14.17.31Cutting through the hype and hysteria

Social media evangelists would have us believe that mass marketing is being replaced by a more interactive form of marketing based on "conversations". Here's a typical quote from Econsultancy:

"The traditional top-down approach of exposing people to messages (is) being superseded by another model which is all about conversations."

Well, traditional media is not really being superseded at all, as last week's post on TV showed. People are still watching lots of TV, helping TV advertising maintain its effectiveness. Rather, social media is an additional marketing channel which works with the other more established ones, rather than replacing them.

And what about this new model where consumers want to have conversations with brands? The EBI researchers used a Facebook metric, "People Talking About This", to get some hard data to cut through the hype. This metric adds up the total likes, posts, comments, tags, shares and other ways of interacting with brand pages. The team looked at this number of people as a percentage of the total people liking the pages of the top 200 brands on Facebook.

And the result? On everage, only 1.3% of brand page likers were interacting with the brand page. And if you take out the new likers, which only requires one click to sign up, the figure drops even lower to 0.45%. In other words, 99.5% of people following a brand's Facebook page didn't interact with it.

So much for a new era of conversation. The research seems to confirm that social media is in reality another communication channel, as Karen Nelson-Field from EBI 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."

Why 99.5% only consume content

So, how come 99.5% of people didn't interact with branded Facebook pages?

First, most of us are simply too busy to bother creating content. Indeed, for many or even most brands we're wouldn't be interested in a conversation at all, even if we had time. Ben Hammersley of Wired UK put it this way, in an article in Marketing here (subscription needed).

"The notion that consumers want to take time out of their busy lives to watch content or even co-create it is a myth. Nobody ever wanted to do any of this. People only think of your brand once – when they buy it."

Second, most brand content on facebook is not viewed nice and neatly on the brand's facebook page. Rather, people consume brand content as part of their "news feed", the stream of content from brands they follow and, more importantly, their most important friends (see picture below). Mashable reports that "Fans are 40 to 150 times more likely to consume branded material in their news feeds than on the actual fan page". This means your brand's content has fight to stand out at all.

Screen Shot 2012-02-21 at 14.15.00
The implications for brands

1. Content is king: you need a small, talented team of people creating and "curating" great content. This is a skill-set most marketers don't have. You may need to hire in or sub-contract to people with writing or journalistic experience.

2. Manage expectations: don't be surprised to see low levels of likes or comments on posts on your facebook page. For a brand with, say, 20,000 likes getting c 100. comments/likes on a post would be about average. Although the more interesting brands do achieve better scores than this,

3. Be newsworthy: you need to work on maximising the chances of your content making into your followers' news feeds, as not all brand page content makes it there. There are some tips on how to do that here.

4. The 0.5% does have value: even if only a minority of people do interact with a brand's facebook page, these interactions do have value. This is because these comments or likes will show up on their top friends' newsfeeds. This means that the interactions of the 0.5% will be communicated to a much wider group. For example, if I "like" a post from a brand I follow, the fact I have done this will show up in the newsfeed of some of my friends (which friends depends on an algorithm facebook uses).

In conclusion, social media is another communication channel that complements more established media. And, as has always been the case, chances of success are increased by creating great content people want to consume and maybe event comment on.