Having “Fans” Does Not Mean Engagement: Only 1% of Fans Engage

Social Media is a weird science, if you can call it a science at all. In essence it is very close to what we as human beings have always been doing: recommending things to others and communicating about what we see happening around us. Still marketers seem to have difficulties grabbing and understanding this and making the best use of this.

This probably comes from decades of ‘old school marketing’ we have been doing. Trying to reach as many people at once, hoping that some of them will respond to it. This type of old marketing leads to a ‘wrong’ approach of Social Media. We try to reach as many people as possible hoping they will interact with us.

Recent research shows that the way marketers and users look at Social Media differs quite a bit. Where marketers still believe ‘presence’ counts and people will engage if you just share things with them, users actually don’t care that much. It turns out that only one percent of Facebook users for example tend to ‘engage’ with brands.

How the Marketer thinks

A few weeks ago results from the “State Of Social Media Marketing” survey from Awareness showed no less than 76% of respondents, who were all social media marketers, believes that “social presence” is the number one Social Marketing ROI Metric. Meaning: the more likes they get, the better they score.

The report also showed most focus lies on ‘the big three’ Social Networks: Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, followed by YouTube (Google+ hasn’t caught on there yet apparently).

The focus is clear: they are aiming for the big numbers, and the big platforms to get what they want. Part of the reason why is that marketers find it hard to actually measure Social Media ROI.

Only half of the respondents actually measures the success of their programs. A shockingly low number.

And if they do measure, they try to measure reach. They try to get as many likes and as many fans as possible. Because that is how they can measure. And with fans, the engagement will come.

But do the ‘fans’ respond?

So the marketer aims for the big numbers, mostly because they are lost. Does this help? Does getting tons of fans actually make a difference in social media?


Another study, this time from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, an Australia-based marketing think tank, looked at how much engagement there actually was between big brands (like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola for example) and their fans. Using Facebook’s own metric, People Talking About This, to measure the interaction, in combination with the fan growth over a six-week-period.

The results from the research, performed back in October, also was shocking:

The percentage of “People Talking About This” to overall fans is 1.3%. Which means only 1.3% of fans actually engages.

Adage even lowers that number by saying:

“If you subtract new likes, which only requires a click and in the minds of the researchers are akin to TV ratings, and isolate for more engaged forms of interaction, you’re left within an even smaller number: 0.45%. That means less than half a percent of people who identify themselves as like a brand actually bother to create any content around it.”

Oh this is bad, right?

The first response would be: this is bad. Well yes and no. As Karen Nelson-Field, senior research associate for Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, points out:

“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.”

That is one way of looking at it. Facebook indeed has become mass media. It looks like you can target, but the way people interact on Facebook shows that whatever brands are saying, it is received the same way as for example what brands are saying on television.

Looking at it that way means marketers should aim for the big numbers, trying to get to as many fans as possible with their message. And don’t care about sharing. Treat is as TV.

But that is not the way social works. If you “use” Facebook this way as a marketer you won’t have to look at engagement. You even shouldn’t look at engagement because as it shows, that doesn’t work.

Treat Social as if it was Social

There is however another way of approaching this: treating social as if it was, well, social. That means going to the roots and working the way people work: they want to share stuff they like and share from who they trust.

If you take that angle looking at number of fans doesn’t matter at all. What is more important is the friends of friends principle: you have to make sure people want to share your brand with their friends, because it feels natural.

Very important here: They don’t have to be your fans to do that.

What should matter is how you get people engaged. Have them share something because its fun, not because its you sharing it. Which means the message which is sent out should not come from you, but from people within their social circles.

Brands should try to step away from their brand and ‘fans’ and try to get people to share. The fact that its related to your brand will do more than just you sending out the message hoping it gets picked up.

It’s time to take a step back to the ‘old’ marketing, and with that I mean pre-mass media marketing.

More on this topic from other sources:


Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.

4 thoughts on “Having “Fans” Does Not Mean Engagement: Only 1% of Fans Engage

  1. This piece really resonates with me.

    But why so when you consider that put another way, this surely makes common sense.

    If I have 100 people pass through my store but only 5 of them are interested in buying chocolate, my marketing efforts are completely failing and we’re not targeting the right segment. I think a lot of businesses feel this common sense comparison doesn’t translate on the web, especially with social media. Of course, they’d be extremely wrong.

    As a business owner myself, I would much rather have 1000 fans that we gained organically off the back of our useful & relevant content than I would have 5000 fans that I’ve acquired in some unscrupulous manner. When I see that number of fans and they aren’t a recognised brand, I wonder what devious tactics they’ve been engaging in, and that impacts my opinion over the brand.

    Sure, not everyone, especially consumers, think like that, but as marketers we should be responsible with the messages and initiatives we’re engaged in and value the intelligence of our audiences.

    Anthony (@atrollope)

    1. Hi Anthony,

      thanks for your comment! I am not quite sure what you mean by “unscrupulous manner”. What I am aiming for is that, to take your store example. It should not be that a 100 people come to your store because you “advertised” for yourself by telling about all the great things you do, but 200 people come and buy because their friends told them your store is awesome.

      The focus should go even further than just the content you produce. It should also be about the content your ‘influentials’ produce. As a brand you have to give them a reason to do that. That is where the challenges lies in my opinion.

      1. Shocked & Not Surprised! Expected engagement to be very low – did not expect 1%…but it makes sense & see this to be honest, on Twitter, Facebook, etc Guess getting fans, likes, etc is relatively easy – the challenge is definitely finding a level to engage and maintaining it with true fans to convert…not so easy! Agree – need to look at the big picture…and engagement or sharing is the key. Thanks

  2. The point I was raising was that in some circles I have seen businesses join syndicates or other services that guarantee ex. number of fans for ex. cost (we know the sorts) and it really defeats the entire point of organically growing an audience that is relevant and targeted to your business offering.

    The strength isn’t in numbers, it’s in the engagement you can actually extract from them.

    I was agreeing with you, I just went an odd way about doing it. 🙂

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