NEW YORK: Gatorade, PepsiCo's sports drink, is developing a new social media strategy that could serve as a benchmark for brands across the company's portfolio.

As part of an effort to engage with teenage athletes, Gatorade is taking a nuanced approach when leveraging sites like Twitter and Facebook, where marketing communications are becoming increasingly common.

The advertiser will post messages supporting social network users competing in high-school games, and also plans to respond to their sports-related questions.

In April, Gatorade established a "Mission Control" in Chicago, which is staffed by four employees and monitors the user-generated online feedback among the target audience 24 hours a day.

Based on software from providers including IBM and Radian6, this hub allows the beverage brand to follow emerging trends in real time, and supplement existing data such as traffic levels and clickthrough rates.

When "influentials" or loyalists mention one of its stable of goods, their comments are given greater significance than other netizens.

This not only enables Gatorade to keep track of perceptions related to offerings like its G-Series range, rolled out last year, but also means it can correct misconceptions.

For example, a representative participated in a Facebook discussion erroneously stating Gatorade contains high-fructose corn syrup.

"If they're directly asking where to buy products, we're going to weigh in," Meg Poulelis, a member of "Mission Control", told the Wall Street Journal.

"If they want to talk about working out, we let them have that conversation."

Should this strategy prove to be effective, PepsiCo may adopt it more broadly, potentially covering brands such as Quaker Oats and Tropicana.

"It's like we're a person in their social circle now," said Sarah Robb O'Hagan, Gatorade's chief marketing officer.

One concrete result of this activity is the release of an extended version of the "Evolve" music used in its "Evolve" ad, after many shoppers expressed interest in it.

Powerade, Coca-Cola's rival brand, is also planning a Web 2.0 push in the near future, but has yielded benefits from physical handouts by "street teams".

"It's old-school social media," said Scott Williamson, group director, public affairs and communications at Coca-Cola.

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