How Coke got 52 million Facebook likes

October 2, 2012, 11:18 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Coca-Cola has 52 million “likes” on Facebook. One of the earliest advertisers on the social media platform, the company has been one of the leaders among large global brands in establishing authentic relationships with consumers. The key? “You have to be “flawsome,” said Wendy Clark, who is Coke’s Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities.

Speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel on Tuesday, Clark explained it this way: “You have to be awesome with your flaws, the things that aren’t exactly perfect. You want to be human, to speak like a human and act like a human.”

Easy to say, but Clark was clear this is hard to do. “We are 126 years old,” she said. “We are used to controlling the dialogue [about Coca-Cola].”

Since Clark moved into her role in 2008, Coca-Cola has given consumers an increasingly larger voice on social media sites. There are 15,000 tweets on a day on Coca-Cola (KO), she said. That type of content is currency in a social networking world. “If we can give consumers content that is engaging, that’s currency. Then they become our salesman.”

To do so, Coke must let consumers engage with the brand’s assets, even when Clark doesn’t like what they are saying. This is the greatest risk to the company’s social media strategy. Said Clark, “There’s plenty of content I would prefer wasn’t around on Coca-Cola but you can’t take that content down. It’s bloody hard. If you start it’s like a game of whack-a-mole. And once you start, you’re never going to win.”

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