NEW YORK: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Ford are among the major advertisers using social media not only to connect with consumers, but also as a means through which to respond to both positive and negative online "buzz".

While many companies are seeking to utilise the developing range of interactive platforms to promote their products, such a strategy is not without risk, as Habitat, the UK retailer, recently discovered.

Coca-Cola has a team of four people, including its head of social media, Adam Brown, leading up its activity in this area, and also employs bespoke software to track emerging opinion on the web.

Last year, this system identified a post on Twitter, the microblogging service, made by a consumer – with thousands of followers – who had been unable to claim a "reward" from the beverage company's MyCoke loyalty scheme.

Brown issued an apology via the messaging utility, and said he would help resolve the matter, with his success in this endeavour being demonstrated by the fact the user in question later changed his profile image to one where he was holding a bottle of Coke.

According to Brown, this shows that "we're getting to a point if you're not responding, you're not being seen as an authentic type of brand."

PepsiCo was also the subject of negative coverage on Twitter, after several highly vocal web users complained about a print ad for Pepsi Max depicting a calorie "committing suicide".

Bonin Bough, the soft drinks firm's global director of digital and social media, and Huw Gilbert, its senior manager for communications, both expressed their regret about the execution in direct responses made on the same site.

This incident also prompted PepsiCo to establish an official presence on Twitter, and it has since become one of its most high-profile users.

In a similar vein, a large number of "tweets" were made in December 2008 accusing Ford of attempting to close down a popular fan site, TheRangerStation.

The auto manufacturer received hundreds of emails on this topic, and Scott Monty, its head of social media, used his Twitter account to tell concerned consumers he was investigating the issue.

It turned out that Ford's legal team had been pursuing this course of action based on the alleged sale of cars falsely carrying Ford branding on TheRangerStation.

Ultimately, the carmaker withdrew its pressure after the web property in question said it would halt the sale of any such vehicle, and Monty updated his Twitter account the same day to say a resolution had been reached.

One of Ford's future initiatives will be to offer training to its staff providing instruction on how they should seek to use social media in a professional capacity.

In July, a Southwest Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing in Charleston, and the air carrier followed the related word-of-mouth which spread on Twitter and Facebook.

Most of the opinions expressed were positive, and the company replied to some posts, crediting the "great work by crew and customers onboard." 

Linda Rutherfo

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff