BRUSSELS: Anheuser-Busch InBev, the brewer, believes that social media now has a central role to play in helping to "sustainably grow" its business.

Speaking on a conference call with analysts, Carlos Brito, AB InBev's CEO, emphasised the rising "importance" of this rapidly-developing medium to the organisation's efforts.

"Today, social media is helping us to find new ways to connect with consumers every day," he said.

"We estimate that our brands have already attracted over 30m Facebook and other social media friends worldwide, helping us to stay relevant to beer lovers around the world and sustainably grow our business."

The company has adopted what it describes as a "Fans First" strategy in this area, defined by attracting followers and providing them with content which is highly relevant to their lifestyles.

Among its specific marketing efforts demonstrating this in action is Budweiser's "The Big Time", a reality show broadcast on ABC, but featuring contestants recruited through social media, which also played a key role in keeping consumers engaged.

The lucky entrants were given the chance to pursue a personal ambition, like pitching to a major league baseball team or driving a racing car, meaning the series thus combined strong branded content and a unique form of "storytelling".

For the Beck's Green Box Project, an augmented reality "gallery" containing original art and sculpture commissions which was available via a mobile app, consumers were also asked to submit their own ideas via the brand's website and Facebook.

Brahma, the Brazilian beer, and Stella Artois, a more high-end line, have also used social networks and interactive tools like apps to connect with customers, yielding "intensified" connections as a result.

According to Brito, AB InBev has an intrinsic advantage, as drinking beer has long been a shared activity, meaning extending this philosophy into the digital space is an extremely viable proposition.

He said: "As the world's leading brewer, we have been creating social networks since 1366 if not longer."

"We consider beer to be the original social network. Beer has been bringing people together for thousands of years to share good times, exchange ideas and connect with each other."

Data sourced from Seeking Alpha; additional content by Warc staff