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Coca-Cola loses control

March 18, 2009

coke-can1In a recent ranking released by InsideFacebook, Coca-Cola had the second most popular fan site on Facebook.

How did they accomplish this? Don’t bother asking anyone at Coca-Cola, because they did not create the site. Rather, two fans of Coca-Cola who were Facebook users and couldn’t find an official-looking fan site decided to create one instead. There are more than 3,300,000 Facebook users that have subscribed as fans of the site, and all without the marketers at Coca-Cola doing a thing.

Increasingly in today’s Internet age, marketers are having more trouble controlling the content available about their product on the Web. In fact, there are 253 total pages dedicated to Coca-Cola on Facebook. Any Facebook user could potentially create one here, or elsewhere on the Web. So, how should marketers respond when they lose control?

One approach, taken recently by Skittles, is for a company to almost completely hand over control of their Web site to Internet users. This is an extremely risky move, as I discussed here.

In the case of the Coca-Cola Facebook site, the executives did nothing, and were at the mercy of Facebook users, some of whom, like on any social networking site, left obscene and negative comments on the page. But, in general, most of the content is from true fans, that in turn leave positive messages, photos, and videos on the page.

However, in November, Facebook began to enforce a policy that anyone who creates a branded Facebook page must be authorized or associated with the brand. If not, they could still create a page, but it would exist as a group page and not a fan page.*

This action is what spurred Coca-Cola to contact the two men who had created the page, in order to establish a relationship with them so as to allow them to continue to administer the page, under the watch of Coca-Cola, so as to keep the page, and its 3.3 million fans, intact.

The fact that Coca-Cola had to approach the two men who had created the page to form an alliance in order to keep the page intact is symptomatic of how social media is helping to increasingly make the consumer the brand owner, and not the company.

It also points to another crucial learning point, which is that companies need to ensure they develop and maintain a presence in key social media outlets.

I think it’s especially critical for those in the consumable consumer-products industry, because their proprietary Web sites will never draw a lot of traffic on their own without some sort of special promotion. Why? Who really needs to do research on the Internet before choosing to buy a can of pop at the gas station? It’s surprising to me that Coca-Cola did not try to harness the power of Facebook on their own, like most consumer-products companies are these days.

The Internet continues to open up new opportunities for those in marketing. There is a profound impact, both positive and negative, that can be created through the use of any of dozens of highly popular social networking sites. And with consumer spending down, it’s now more critical than ever for marketers to make sure they are effectively connecting with their customers.

* Information from Advertising Age

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