PALO ALTO, California: Advertisers including Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Kraft are all using Facebook, the social networking service, to generate consumer insight, but their varying approaches and experiences show marketers have not yet established a consistent approach to using the website.

Many brands have displayed an increasing enthusiasm about utilising social media as popular interest in the medium has grown, but the developing nature of this channel means that few "best practice" examples of how to do so have emerged as yet.

As previously reported, Coca-Cola's main page on Facebook was originally created by two brand enthusiasts, and now has over three million "friends", making it one of the most popular areas of the Palo Alto-based website.

Michael Donnelly, director of worldwide interactive marketing at the soft drinks giant, argues that “many consumers are already sharing information regularly on Facebook," meaning the fan-page was "just one more way to quickly share information in a place where they are already spending time."

He also asserted that the "ease of creating content makes it so that we get very high engagement, far beyond typical page views" by using Facebook, which also "gives us a great platform to listen to the feedback we receive from our consumers."

In support of this, he added that every time the company added "photos, videos or status updates from the page, our fans are quick to tell us what they think. Their feedback is shared with their network of Facebook friends, exposing them to our fan-page."

Starbucks, the coffee house chain, which currently has 1.5 million "fans" for its official page, has also previously employed the social media site to communicate with users about its efforts to raise money for Global Aids Day.

Alexandra Wheeler, the firm's director of digital strategy, said the initiative "became the most viral event in Facebook history," and meant that "not only were customers excited about the brand, but they came together on one day to do something good."

Overall, she asserted that Facebook "helps us get a pulse on what is important to our customers. We can have a real dialog with them about the values and ideals that they share with us."

Kraft, the food manufacturer, also launched an "app" on the site last December, donating six meals to the not-for-profit organisation Feeding America each time it was downloaded.

Over 230,000 people did so within the first six weeks of its launch, while an unofficial page for the company's Oreo brand has also acquired more than 1.3 million "friends."

Stephen Chriss, director of consumer and customer engagement, at the company's US snacks business, said that while the company currently doesn't "formally interact with fans" on Facebook.

However, it does "keep an eye on the content, conversation and number of fans" on the service, and is also "reviewing" its approach.

Victoria's Secret and Sears have also used the site to offer discounts on products, and Unilever's Simon Clift has p

Data sourced from Brand Channel/ClickZ; additional content by WARC staff