NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire -01/25/12)- Though social media is universally pegged as a high priority for 2012, companies still aren't listening to or communicating with consumers, suggests the latest A.T. Kearney Social Media Study, an investigation into the social media practices of Interbrand's Top 50 Brands for 2011. Forty-eight of the Top 50 brands have a Facebook profile page, but activity levels vary drastically among them, and year-over-year comparisons show a continued reluctance on the part of most top-brand companies to embrace social media as a valuable part of customer outreach. At the same time, online messages from consumers have grown to a staggering quantity, indicating social media's increasingly important role as a communications tool. One of the study's key takeaways was that, for some companies, it may be better not to be present at all on Facebook than to project an uncommunicative or irrelevant picture of their brand.
Observed Jim Singer, study sponsor and a partner in A.T. Kearney's Consumer and Retail Industries practice, "The majority of companies we looked at are not moving toward a more interactive use of social media, even as their customers are becoming clearer about their expectation to interact with their brands. There are more than 180 million online 'fans' of these brands, and our research looked at almost 3,000 of their posts. From these, it was clear that most brands are lagging in their social media conversations and interactions. That said, a handful of brands are improving, and a few are doing a great job."
Company Postings Fall Into 4 Main Categories
Four basic types of posts were observed in this study: personal postings, consisting of a question or statement that is personal to consumers, but does not specifically promote the product; promotional postings, which may include a coupon; informative postings, which provide product-relevant information to consumers; and external postings, which refer to off-Facebook content with a link, and may or may not be produced by company. Additionally, levels of consumer interaction, on-line company transparency, and responsiveness were studied.
The study found that 94 percent of companies land visitors on a one-way communication page (65 percent on a company-created tab and 29 percent on a company-only wall). These results are nearly identical to the results of the first year of the study, when 91 percent landed visitors on a one-way communication page.
The research also turned up that 38 of the 48 companies with a Facebook page have either filtered their wall to display company-only posts, or have restricted their walls solely to company posts. Only one company has moved toward unfiltered communication since last year's study.
"If these results show a lack of movement, responsiveness indicators were even more alarming," noted Singer. Twenty-seven out of 48 companies did not respond to a single customer reply. In last year's study, 25 out of 45 failed to respond to any consumers. And only four companies -- Toyota, GE, American Express, and Citi -- responded to more than 25 percent of consumer postings.
"Although on the whole, today's consumers are satisfied or even surprised to receive a direct reply from a company, tomorrow's consumers will have much higher expectations," noted Christina Heggie, the A.T. Kearney analyst who led the research team. The study cites the example of a Best Buy customer who, after receiving a response from the company, posted: "Wow, thank you! I didn't expect anyone to actually read this!" As select companies start to model best practices in social media-based customer relations, other companies will likely begin to emulate their successes, which will elevate the level of communication that consumers expect.
What Consumers "Like"
Consumers have begun to clearly indicate the types of interaction they want and expect from companies. Using Facebook "likes" as one indicator, this year's study showed that consumers "like" personal company posts two and a half times more, on average, than all other company posting types combined. This differs distinctly from last year's results, when 80 percent of consumer "likes" were evenly spread among personal, promotional, and informative posting types.
"Getting consumers to put themselves on the line invests them in a brand -- whether they 'like' it or hate it, they are committing to an opinion. And that's what companies need to sit up and take notice of, though it seems that all too often, they don't," observed Singer.
To return to company responsiveness, consumers in this year's study similarly indicated that over half of all consumer replies were in direct response to personal postings. Despite this fact, companies aren't posting nearly as many personal posts as they are promotional and external posts -- 61 percent of company posts scanned in the study were promotional or external, and only 13 percent were personal.
What Lies Ahead
This year, the study counted 235,217 times that a consumer shared a company post across the 2,647 total posts studied over these 48 brands. The sharp acceleration of company-consumer interactions through social media suggests that social media marketing is not only here to stay, but is an initiative that needs to be followed as quickly and creatively as possible. This year's analysis added up 284,406 replies across both consumers and companies. "Company interaction with consumers is clearly in demand, and consumers will be stating this demand more and more insistently. Companies who can listen and respond people-to-people seem poised to come out ahead," concludes Singer.
About A.T. Kearney
A.T. Kearney is a global team of forward-thinking, collaborative partners that delivers immediate, meaningful results and long-term transformative advantage to clients. Since 1926, we have been trusted advisors on CEO-agenda issues to the world's leading organizations across all major industries and sectors. A.T. Kearney's offices are located in major business centers in 38 countries.
About the Social Media Study
A.T. Kearney's Social Media Study was first undertaken in 2010 as a way to understand the growing place of social media in the communications and consumer relations of retail and consumer product companies. The top 50 companies were selected from Interbrand's 2011 ranking of the world's top brands, and the Facebook profile pages were selected based on several criteria, including a link to the company website and size of the fan base.
The study examined three categories of communication on Facebook "walls": company-to-consumer (what does the company say?), consumer-to-company (what does the consumer say?) and company replies (how do companies reply to consumers?). Within each category, we measured three types of communication: company to consumer, consumer to company, and company replies.
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