NEW YORK: Major brands like Ford, Martha Stewart Omnimedia and AOL are using a wide range of strategies as they seek to engage with consumers across the growing number of digital platforms.

Ford has developed online communities based around most of its marques, and which operate independently of its own main website, on services like Facebook, Ning and Twitter.

Facebook, in particular, is home to branded pages covering much of the Detroit-based firm's portfolio, allowing the company to add images, videos and news, and receive feedback from users.

According to Scott Monty, the automaker's director of social media, this approach is most likely to be successful for large corporations with a diverse group of assets.

In his role, Monty is responsible for running the social media accounts for brands like Mustang and Fiesta, and for initiatives like Ford Drive Green.

"The Ford Fusion Hybrid page speaks to a different audience than the Mustang page," he said, adding that each such platform offers Ford a number of distinct advantages.

"It's an opportunity to share specific content with them and to get their private opinions. It's like an advisory board," said Monty.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has established a formal presence on Ning for Dreamers Into Doers, which it defines as a "community of doers who turn their dreams into their business."

It holds an annual competition recognising women who have achieved this goal, and while consumers set up their own related forums on Facebook, and other sites, in 2008, the company is now attempting to play a more direct role in this process.

While its page on Ning has fewer "fans" than the user-generated equivalents on Facebook and Twitter, the members of the official site are typically much more active.

Speaking at Advertising Week 2009 – covered in more detail hereTim Armstrong, chairman/ceo of AOL, argued "the 1990s at AOL were about access; the last ten years have been about platforms; but the next wave is about content."

More specifically, he said the current climate is "creating opportunities for specialised new content plays," and AOL has a team of 3,000 people ready to build a new content brand anywhere it finds "white space" on the web.

At the same event, Lucas Watson, Procter & Gamble's global team leader, digital business strategy, said "70% of the business impact in interactive media is driven by creative quality."

The creative process is now not always delivered through traditional means, as demonstrated by a Hugo Boss product-design contest that was ultimately won by a teenager in Thailand.

"This kind of thing can be incredibly intimidating for our agency partners … Our best agency partners are able to accept/amplify ideas even when they're not their own," Watson said.

In order to enjoy the greatest benefit from their digital presence, brands thus "need to reward cross-agency collaboration as well as nurture experiments and innovation," he concluded.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff