Do you know how many consumers would consider themselves fans of your brand? What percentage of these people uses the internet?

Do you know how many consumers would consider themselves fans of your brand?

What percentage of these people uses the internet?

Now, how many in this group would be willing to proclaim their love for your brand on the Web?

If you’re Coca-Cola, this number is somewhere north of three million. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, allow consumers to become “fans” of and expound on everything from athletes to frozen pizza to local restaurants and each other. Add to this the thousands of food-oriented, consumer-driven blogs, and it’s clear that there is a vast opportunity for any food brand - from small start ups to category leaders - to gain recognition and a following.

Some companies have taken matters into their own hands. Last October, General Mills launched the Pssst… Network, a site where consumer bloggers can download high resolution product shots and get leads on new products, while Kraft Foods launched, where consumer members can learn about new products and offer feedback by posting comments on community pages or sending “news” to friends.

Sometimes consumers are doing the work for brands without the companies even realizing it. According to a recentAd Agearticle, two Los Angeles residents (unaffiliated with the brand) created a Facebook profile dedicated to their love for Coca-Cola. Approximately 3.3 million other people have joined since then - giving the Coca-Cola Facebook page the largest group of fans on the network aside from President Barack Obama (Obama’s Facebook profile has approximately 5.8 million fans). And the Coca-Cola page has only existed since August 2008. Coca-Cola has since joined ranks with the two consumers,  although the fans still maintain the profile.

Impressive numbers, but the business world doesn't yet know if racking up Facebook fans or blog references helps generate any revenue. Some believe that social networking is a conspicuous waste of time. Others see it as a valuable brand-building resource.

For example, a recent survey of small to medium-sized businesses by HubSpot, a Cambridge, Mass.-based “inbound marketing system that helps small or medium sized businesses get found on the Internet,” indicated that blogs and social media accounted for 8 percent of sales leads generated. And the company CEOs surveyed said that company-generated blogs were considered “useful,” “important” and “critical” to business.

A seemingly contradictory survey conducted last year by Forrester Research, an independent research company also based in Cambridge, found that only 16 percent of online consumers who read corporate blogs say they trust them, thus indicating that information coming from other consumers may be more persuasive.

So, whether or not you are aware, it’s likely that someone out there is blogging about or creating Facebook pages for your products - and their peers are paying attention. In my opinion it’s no longer a question of whether you should get involved, but how.

 Tell me what you think