ATLANTA: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are both placing an increased emphasis on social media, as they seek to connect with consumers in innovative ways.

PepsiCo has employed a range of Web 2.0 platforms to promote the Pepsi Refresh Project, which is offering $20 million (€14.6m; £13.2m) in grants to schemes aimed at improving local communities.

Alongside allowing consumers to make submissions and vote for their favourite entries online, the beverage maker is hoping to generate electronic word-of-mouth among the internet audience.

"This is not about us pouring our messaging down," said Bonin Bough, its global director of digital and social media. "It's about releasing control. The centre of culture has evolved to the point where people own brands."

Since going live in January this year, the dedicated website for the Refresh Project has received more than one million unique visitors, with almost 3 million votes having being cast.

Moreover, the number of "fans" following Pepsi on Facebook has doubled to over 600,000 since late 2009, while approximately 1,000 "tweets" about the Refresh Project are added to Twitter every day.

Elsewhere, the company is engaging in a co-creation programme for the next extension to its Mountain Dew range, covering everything from formulation and packaging to design and advertising.

The "Dewocracy2" campaign is seeking not only to heighten engagement levels with some of the brand's biggest advocates, but also to promote the "do-it-yourself" attitude exhibited by its customers.

Coca-Cola's recent social media activity has involved allowing users of Facebook to watch previews of its Super Bowl television spots on its dedicated brand page.

It also donated $1 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America each time a member of this portal sent a "virtual Coke" to one of their "friends" on the site, with 126,000 people opting to do so in all.

Coke is one of the most popular brands on Facebook, with 5.2 million "fans", a figure that has leapt from 3.5 million in January, including the addition of 800,000 people in ten days prior to the Super Bowl.

According to the company, 70% of the content on its Facebook profile is generated by the public, while 30% is official material, like asking where shoppers last enjoyed a can of Coca-Cola.

"When you've got brand managers, everybody wants to own the brand, but we don't own the brand. Consumers do," said Carol Kruse, vp of global interactive marketing at Coca-Cola.

"If people are interacting with our brand every day, that's fabulous marketing. Word-of-mouth is one of the key drivers."

While Kruse suggested that, to date, it is has been hard to quantify the impact of this area on sales, certain key metrics emphasised by the soft drinks giant, such as "brand love", are visibly increasing.

Another of the Atlanta-based organisation's projects is Expedition 206, where three competition winners visit all the countries where Coke is sold, and upload a range of content about their experiences.

Web users in China can track the progress of these bloggers and send digital "Expedition 206 stamps" to each other, with 100 million items having been delivered on behalf of 46 million people thus far.

Sprite, which is Coca-Cola's second-largest brand worldwide, is also launching an online service enabling netizens to make their own animated videos, and remix pieces of music.

This idea, called "The Spark", will promote the introduction of a new logo for Sprite in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia later this year.

Data sourced from Atlanta Journal Constitution; additional content by Warc staff