As brand consultancy Interbrand launch their 11th annual ranking of the Best Global Brands with Coca-Cola topping the chart for the 11th year running, it reminded us of one of the greatest stories of social media empowerment we have ever heard about.

How Coca-Cola’s Facebook fan page began life on the kitchen table of Dusty Sorg, an aspiring young Los Angeles actor who couldn’t find an official Coke Facebook page back in August 2008. With wordsmith friend Michael Jedrzejewski they set about creating a fan page that soon had millions of fans and became the number one brand name fan page on Facebook. That’s when Coca-Cola contacted them. Not to close them down but surprisingly and endearingly to embrace them.

After a VIP trip to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta they met with top executives of the global brand who admitted they were thankful for what the two ‘fans’ had achieved and wanted them to continue their work joined by Coca-Cola employees as a joint venture. They even got the two to make a video explaining to the world how the Coca Cola Facebook fan page had come about.

It’s a nice tale. One where the big brand isn’t reported as a bully and where the people who spent a lot of time and effort into what was effectively free publicity for the brand, got just reward and recognition. It’s probably also fairly unique – perhaps only a brand like Coca-Cola could have realistically have reacted as they did. Not that the scenario is unique. In fact it’s an increasingly common problem facing brands looking to develop their their Facebook presence. So what options are available when somebody else has already piggy-backed your brand to create a fan page?

  1. You could ask Facebook to transfer control of the page to you. Facebook’s policy is that fan pages may only be controlled by the rightful brand owner so legitimately if there is a page for a brand you own you can simply contact Facebook, confirm your legitimacy to them and get ownership transferred to you. Smooth? Probably not. Depending on your brand and the size of the fan page this might turn into a PR disaster with you the legitimate brand owner seen as a bully.
  2. You could approach those running the page to transfer control to you. You get the benefit of the presence already created and take control of it. However, finding out who is in charge may the stumbling block. That information isn’t public and posting a message on the public wall asking for the owner to contact you would need to be very carefully worded to avoid the same being taken out of context. You could always ask Facebook, applying their policy in 1 above, for the contact details, but once alerted they might want to close the site down if you are not taking immediate control.
  3. Follow the Coca-Cola lead and ask the page owner to share control with you. It sounds perfect but, except for major brands like Coke and perhaps certain pop stars, the risks associated with this approach may be too big to take for the average company, who won’t have the resources to sweeten the offer to the current people running the page.
  4. The most drastic option is to ask Facebook to shut the page down. This may be necessary if as an unofficial page the moderation has not been as strong as you would have wanted. If there are archived items that you would rather not have associated with your brand it may be best just to delete the whole thing. However, prepare for the PR backlash if the community on there is already fairly substantial. Facebook can roll fans from a shut down page to a new page you set up but remember some of those might not want to be part of your ‘official’ community.
  5. The final option is to let the page remain but simply start up your own official page. If you don’t mind having ‘unofficial’ pages out there this can be the smoothest option. Just remember fans searching for your page may find the unofficial ones instead, which may have an impact on your page growing.

Each option has potential pitfalls, but what is important is that you are aware of what is out there using your brand. Before you act it is worth monitoring what is going on where. Try and gauge the audience and fan members – how are they likely to react to any changes? Check out the content already there – is it a risk to your brand?

Have you had your brand hi-jacked via Facebook? How did you deal with it?