“Fanning out” when it comes to brands and social media engagement.

Social media may well be taking the famous 90-9-1 principle of online engagement … and bringing it to new lows.

It’s hard not to come to this conclusion when reviewing the results of research conducted by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. This Australian-based University think-tank studied the actual engagement levels of people who have “liked” the top 200 brands on Facebook by considering the degree to which fans actually shared posts or commented on the brand.

Over a six-week period of study, Ehrenberg-Bass found that fewer than one half of one percent of the brand fans actually “engaged” in any way at all.

The conclusion? It turns out that social media fan bases and actual engagement are two very different things.

Categories that do somewhat better in “engagement” are ones like alcohol, cars and electronics. But interestingly enough, the study also found that the so-called “passion” brands – such as Harley-Davidson, Porsche or Nike – don’t perform much better than “regular” brands: 0.66% engagement versus 0.35%.

In its report conclusions, Ehrenburg-Bass questions whether the Herculean efforts being made by some brands to “bribe” their way to thousands of “fans” and “likes” is really worth the cost in terms of the added product discounts, coupons and other goodies that are being proffered to entice consumers to become brand fans.

When you boil it down, the Ehrenburg-Bass research confirms yet again a basic truism about branding: Much as we would love to think otherwise, the marketplace isn’t nearly as enamored with our brands and products as we think they should be.

To us, the branding so important. To them … it’s just one big shrug of the shoulders.

Are “News Hound” Behaviors Changing?

News Hound Behaviors are ChangingMost of the people I know who are eager consumers of news tend to spend far more time on the Internet than they do offline with their nose in the newspaper.

So I was surprised to read the results of a new study published by Gather, Inc., a Boston-based online media company, which found that self-described “news junkies” are more likely to rely on traditional media sources like television, newspapers and radio than online ones.

In fact, the survey, which was fielded in March 2010 and queried the news consumption habits of some 1,450 respondents representing a cross-section of age and income demographics, found that more than half of the “news hounds” cited newspapers as their primary source of news.

By comparison, younger respondents (below age 25) are far more likely to utilize the Internet for reading news (~70% do so).

Another interesting finding in the Gather study – though not terribly surprising – is that younger respondents describe themselves as “interest-based,” meaning that apart from breaking news, they focus only on stories of interest to them. This pick-and-choose “cafeteria-style” approach to news consumption may partially explain the great gaps in knowledge that the “over 40” population segment perceives in the younger generations (those observations being reported with accompanying grunts of displeasure, no doubt).

As for sharing news online, there are distinct differences in the behavior of older versus younger respondents. Two findings are telling:

 More than two-thirds of respondents age 45 and older share news items with other primarily through e-mail communiqués.

 ~55% of respondents under age 45 share news primarily through social networking.

Also, more than 80% of the respondents in Gather’s study revealed that they have personally posted online comments about news stories. This suggests that people have now become more “active” in the news by weighing in with their own opinions, rather than just passively reading the stories. This is an interesting development that may be rendering the 90-9-1 principle moot.

[For those who are unfamiliar with the 90-9-1 rule, it contends that for every 100 people interacting with online content, one creates the content … nine edit, modify or comment on that content … and the remaining 90 passively read/review the content without undertaking any further action. It’s long been a tenet in discussions about online behavior.]

What types of news stories are most likely to generate reader comments? Well, politics and world events are right up there, but local news stories are also a pretty important source for comments:

 Political stories: 28%
 National/international news stories: 27%
 Local news stories: 22%
 Celebrity news: 13%
 Sports stories: 5%
 Business and financial news: 5%

And what about the propensity for news seekers to use search engines to find multiple perspectives on a news story? More than one-third of respondents report that they “click on multiple [search engine] results to get a variety of perspectives,” while less than half of that number click on just the first one or two search result entries.

And why wouldn’t people hunt around more? In today’s world, it’s possible to find all sorts of perspectives and “slants” on a news story, whereas just a few years ago, you’d have to be content with the same AP or UPI wire story that you’d find republished in dozens of papers — often word-for-word.