It's easy to understand why Coca-Cola Co. has a popular Facebook page. It's Coke. Everybody knows Coke.
But a white paper from search marketing firm Covario reports that the company's Facebook page isn't just popular; it's the biggest company Facebook page in the world, besting other highly recognizable brands such as Walmart, Disney, MTV, HP, and Hyundai.
How did the world's largest beverage company end up with the best Facebook page? The data show the company does a good job of outreach and limiting criticism. Experts say it is doing the right things in terms of engagement, too.
Covario's study examined the Facebook pages of the 100 top-spending advertisers in the world, according to Advertising Age. The firm looked at four areas: reach, which deals with follower count and growth; engagement, which involves posting, "likes," and comments; technical aspects such as searching, title and URL, and reputation, or lack of negative content found via searches.
Coke outranked the 25 other top companies in reach and reputation, though it fell below some in engagement and technical aspects.
"Coke has a huge base on Facebook with 34 million followers in August 2011-growing at a rate of 2.6% monthly," the white paper states. "They also have solid engagement with the fan base, with 7 monthly posts (2 per week), which garner 236 comments and 1,749 likes per post. The technical factors are very good, and there are no negative pages that rank highly in the US."
Since August, Coke's follower count has jumped another million-plus to about 35.3 million followers.
Examining the page
Interactivity is a big part of why Coca-Cola's page is so successful, says Keith Trivitt, associate director of the Public Relations Society of America.
"The company has truly embraced successful word-of-mouth marketing practices and actively provides its customers and fans with engaging content and resources they can use to evangelize the value of the brand to their friends and followers," he says.
For example, one of the tabs on Coke's page is for the "Ahh Giver," an app that enables users to send a sort of Coca-Cola branded e-card to friends. Plus, a friend who receives one of those cards gets a free Coke.
In a blog post at Fast Pivot, writer Jonathan Poston observes that Coca-Cola's Facebook wall isn't bogged down by the content controls that lots of other brand pages have. For instance, rather than automatically displaying only the company's own wall posts, the default setting is to show posts from everyone.
"The alchemy behind Coca-Cola's silver tongue transformation seems to be that they've backed off from the controls and let fans define and drive the brand on Facebook—though it's still too early to say for sure, especially when it has only been in the last year or so that big brands like Coca-Cola have seen such exponential growth in the social space," he wrote.
Dave Van de Walle of Area 224 says it seems like there's something for everyone on the page—it includes content in many languages—but, he notes, this is also Coca-Cola we're talking about.
"I don't have a can or bottle of Coca-Cola in front of me, but I can only imagine that having millions of bottles and cans leads to lots of potential impressions for the brand," he says.
One thing that sets Coca-Cola's page apart from other Facebook pages is that the company didn't create it. A section of the page tells the story of how two friends created it themselves after not being able to find an official Coca-Cola page. Rather than just buy the page from the creators, Dusty and Michael, the company hired them to keep interacting and be online brand ambassadors.
"Rather than booting off the page creators, the company brought them into the fold, hiring them in the Atlanta headquarters to manage much of their online fan engagement and keep the page thriving," says Trivitt. "And the results and success of the Coca-Cola fan page, not to mention the company's entire social media efforts, speak for themselves."
Even so, blogger Sherrilynne Starkie, account director at Thornley Falls Communications, says the Covario report only takes a superficial look at Facebook pages.
"From what I've seen on the page, Coke is not having a conversation with fans," she says. "The company posts statements and fans react, but there is no true back-and-forth conversation taking place."
A company that truly is engaging customers in conversation is Walmart, she says, which didn't even rank in the top 25 in the Covario study. However, the white paper does single out the retail giant as a company that engages with fans.