Though social media is a high priority for many companies, most still aren't listening to or engaging with consumers, according to the latest AT Kearney Social Media Study, an investigation into the social media practices of Interbrand's Top 50 Brands, which found that while 48 of the top 50 have a Facebook profile page, activity levels vary drastically and year-on-year comparisons show a continued reluctance on the part of most top brands to embrace social media as a valuable part of customer outreach.

According to Jim Singer, study sponsor and a partner in AT 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."

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 found 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," says Singer. More than half (27 out of 48 companies) did not respond to a single customer reply. 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," says 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!"

But as leading edge companies start to model best practices in social media-based customer relations, other companies will likely begin to emulate their successes, which Kearney says will elevate the level of communication that consumers expect.

Indeed, 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.