Even Sexy Brands Struggle With Low Engagement on Facebook

Less Than 1% of Fans -- a Lot Less, in Most Cases -- Actually Do Something

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The common view that Facebook "likes" equate to brand engagement took a hit last month when the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shared some interesting data with us. Researchers found that less than 1% of fans of the 200 biggest brands on Facebook actually engaged.

Their conclusion was based on a six-week study of Facebook's People Talking About This metric, with researchers considering the number as a proportion of fan bases. Only 0.45% of fans engaged, if you subtract likes to isolate for more meaningful activity, including shares and comments. This confirmed something many readers already suspected: Facebook fan bases and actual engagement aren't the same thing.

One of the more interesting questions arising from the study is whether the findings apply to passion brands, like Nike or Harley-Davidson, as opposed to ubiquitous products that , loyal as their audiences might be, don't get folks lathered up at the mere sight of the logo. Though the short answer is that passion brands might get slightly more engagement, it's not enough to throw off the overall findings.

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 %.

I asked Senior Research Associate Karen Nelson-Field if that difference is statistically significant. In an email, she replied that it is -- because of the large sample sizes -- but that there's something more important.

"Only one brand of the entire 200 in the analysis got an engagement level of 2%. A few over 1%. Most under 1%," Ms. Nelson-Field wrote. "The significance here lies in the very tiny rate of engagement across all brands in a big sample. So, yes, we could say that Brand A (at 1%) gets twice as much engagement as Brand B (at 0.5%), but that 's like saying, 'You have 50 cents, I have $1, so I am twice as rich as you.' "

The ultimate question is about the cost-effectiveness of engaging twice as many fans, Ms. Nelson-Field said. "Is the variation worth [the outlay], given the most you could expect is just over 1%?"

So there it is . Brands we think of as sexy have almost as tough a slog as a laundry soap in getting their large fan bases to do something.

One final data point from the study: Parsing by category, Ms. Nelson-Field found that the highest engagement was in alcohol, cars, cosmetics and electronics. The lowest was in confectionery, fast-moving consumer goods (such as laundry products), retailers, and software, social platforms and apps.

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