NEW YORK: Coca-Cola has become the first brand to secure more than 50m "likes" on Facebook, the social network, an achievement attributed to its authenticity and active engagement with the site's users.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, argued one key factor supporting Coca-Cola's success when it came to attracting followers was that the firm had grasped the core principles of social media.

"Coca-Cola understands the value of communicating directly with its most ardent supporters in an authentic way that helps make the world more open and connected," she said.

Until now, the 50m benchmark had only been reached by celebrities like Eminem, the rapper, with 60.9m fans, and Rihanna, the singer, on 60.1m, according to figures from SocialBakers, the analytics group.

Facebook itself has 71.9m "likes", with YouTube, the video-sharing property, on 62m. Coke's biggest rival in brand terms is Disney, the entertainment giant, on 38.2m.

Coca-Cola's brand page on Facebook was not even created by the soft drinks manufacturer. It was actually established by two consumers, Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski, in 2008.

In a bid to deepen ties with its followers on the site, Coca-Cola has developed a new Facebook app asking users to submit ideas that may help to "make the world a happier place".

This campaign is in keeping with its "Open Happiness" brand positioning, and will see the company back the best proposal – which could be an invention, cause or social app – in 2013.

Sandberg suggested that this programme marked the "next step in fan culture". Joe Tripodi, Coca-Cola's chief marketing and commercial leadership officer, proved equally optimistic about the scheme.

"Today we have an engaged global community more than 50 million strong connected through Facebook," he said. "This provides an opportunity to engage our most supportive and enthusiastic fans in a quest to find ways to make the world a happier place."

Coca-Cola has been a a major advocate of Facebook, and publicly defended the platform in the face of criticisms about the effectiveness of its advertising from operators like General Motors, the automaker.

Speaking at a conference in June, Tripodi asserted that Facebook was "probably a leading indicator of potential sales", although he added that it could take two years to develop the metrics proving this.

Data sourced from 4-Traders; additional content by Warc staff