Out of Interbrand's Top 50 Global Brands on Facebook, 27 of them won’t even reply directly to their customers. This is according to a study conducted by Jim Singer, a partner at A.T. Kearny, who spoke at the Media Technology Summit last week in New York City. As recently as May of 2012, Singer reported that companies as consumer-facing as Disney, McDonald’s, and Sony only allow posts that were created by the companies themselves. (An interesting side note: Apple still has no official Facebook presence, though a fan-created page has still attracted 7.8 million likes since coming online in July 2011, almost more than Sony (3.4 million) and McDonald’s (5.2 million) combined.)

“They’re still posting coupons, sales, and other promotions, but largely these conversations are still one-way,” said Singer. “For the first time, many marketers have to engage with their customers instead of talking at them, and it’s becoming a nightmare.”

Singer explained this behavior based on two main theories. First, companies are genuinely concerned with losing control over their message and branding. More than a third of all the posts collected were ones that would only do the companies harm. About 27% of all the posts surveyed were pure spam, but another 8% were real complaints. People with gripes about a company can vent their feelings on an official company portal, sharing their complaints not only with the companies themselves but also with the potentially millions of hard-earned fans.

But the other reason is that many marketers simply don’t know how to create the kinds of conversations that engage customers. 20 of the 50 companies have a 4:1 company to customer ratio of posts on their Facebook pages. 71% of the company posts were promotional, but only 5% of all posts actually sought to create real conversation with their customers 

Not all hope is lost, though. Singer went on to discuss that three ways companies can successfully connect with their customers on Facebook: “using nostalgia, product discussions, and finding common causes.” For example, Coca-Cola has almost 130 years of history with its products, and with it decades of iconic memorabilia its consumers can relate to. Sony partnered with Foursquare to encourage customers on Facebook to check in at its PlayStation HQ stores, getting them special deals and then asking for feedback. And the Harley-Davidson Foundation publicly made a $1 million donation to Disabled American Veterans on Veteran’s Day, along with posting an associated story about a veteran who was also a Harley-Davidson owner, which combined generated almost 10,000 “likes” and 400 hundred comments.

The days of merely trying to drive up Facebook fans are drawing to a close. The guests have arrived, and it’s now up to companies to make sure they have a reason to stay. What are some of the best ways you’ve seen companies engage with their customers on Facebook? 

(More can be found on A.T. Kearny's study here: Socially Awkward Media)