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Starbucks And The 4 Keys To Social Media Engagement

It is a ritual, either on your way to work or after you have opened the laptop or logged in. It doesn’t matter when but most of us do it. Starbucks 4 keys to social media engagementWe pop down to the corner coffee shop or cafe and and order our latte, cappucino, flat white or even a soy version of all of the above… in fact I have my soya flat white with no sugar right next to me now provided by my local barista called affectionately ‘BJ’.  We chat to the barista or the waitress as we wait for the morning brew, it is part of our offline  rituals that makes starting the day engaging and social.

For most coffee shops their total marketing plan is a loyalty card.. you know the one I mean.. buy 5 cups get the sixth one free and that is where it mostly stops.

Marketing is becoming more digital and stores and brands that primarily rely on offline marketing such as newspapers, television and other mass media and continue to ignore the importance of  the digital world will find it increasingly difficult to engage with their customers and will be overwhelmed by competitors that understand that for most businesses the future is web and social online engagement, even if it is not an online store.

The challenge for bricks and mortar companies and stores is “thinking” digital and online and “immersing” your business in it.

Digital immersion does not come naturally for offline brands as it hard to develop that mindset when you are not a technology company or unfamiliar with the web and its fast moving channels.

Starbucks is a plain old bricks and mortar coffee shop. They have not worked out how to digitise the coffee but they have worked out how to engage their customers both in the the store and in cyberspace. Just this week they have announced free unlimited wireless internet in all their stores and along with that are providing a whole range of content such as the Wall Street Journal that is normally behind paid walls. According to the Chief Information Officer at Starbucks, Stephen Gillett, the goal is to bring the overall Starbucks in-store experience online.

Starbucks Social Media Engagement Channel Facebook

In a report by Altimeter Starbucks was found to be the most social media engaged brand out of the Worlds top 100 most valuable brands despite the fact that they are a not a technology company and the top 10 included companies like Google and Amazon that live and breathe digital oxygen.

So what are the 4 key elements that were identified by the study as crucial for engagement with your customers.

1. Emphasize quality not just quantity

Engagement is more than just setting up a blog and letting viewers post comments; it’s more than just having a Facebook profile and having others write on your wall. It’s also about keeping your blog content fresh and replying to comments; it’s building your friends network and updating your profile status. Don’t just check the box; engage with your customer audience.

2. To scale engagement make social media part of everyone’s job

The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization. Instead, it’s important for everyone across the organization to engage with customers in the channels that make sense — a few minutes each day spent by every employee adds up to a wealth of customer touch points.

3. Doing it all may not be for you – but you must do something

The optimal social media marketing strategy will depend on a variety of factors, including your industry. If your most valuable customers do not depend on or trust social media as a communication medium, or if your organization is resistant to engagement in some channels, you will have to start smaller and slower. But start you must, or risk falling far behind other brands, not only in your industry, but across your customers’ general online experience.

4. Find your sweetspot

Engagement can’t be skin-deep, nor is it a campaign that can be turned on and off. True engagement means full engagement in the channels where you choose to invest. Thus, choose carefully and advocate strongly to acquire the resources and support you will need to succeed. If you are resource-constrained, it is better to be consistent and participate in fewer channels than to spread yourself too thin.

Starbucks Social Media Engagement Channel Twitter

The VP of Brand & Content and Online Chris Bruzzo put it this way

We live in the physical world with thousands of natural touch points, so when we laid out the vision for our
social strategy, it felt like home for the brand. It’s about the relationships we form with our customers, not marketing.

Whate some of the results of this vision

  • Share price now over $20 instead of $7
  • Over 5 million Facebook fans
  • Quadrupled traffic to Starbucks.com
  • 250 million global PR media impressions
  • 487 million global Facebook impressions

The challenge we have as companies who are in constant touch with our customers every day is to make those touch points engage rather that turn away our clients both in the offline world as well as online such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and email or whatever your sweetspots are.

What are your sweet spot touch points with your customers and could you do it better?

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • Great post – I just finished reading “6 Pixels of Separation” by Mitch Joel and you touched on his primary theme in only a few short paragraphs. Namely, the entire world is connected, if you don’t connect your business to your customers, you will be left behind

  • I’m a frequent Starbucks customer and wifi user. They seem to have all aspects of business covered, both in the store and online.

    I’ve bought and sold Starbucks stock several times, but not over the last two years. It helped when they started paying a dividend.

  • modelsupplies

    Starbucks is definitely The Hip coffee company. They’re cool enough to be a nice gift – that’s when you know you’ve made it 😉 Beautiful post, Jeff~!!

    Anita @ModelSupplies

  • One thing I would add to this (because it drives me crazy that Starbucks is NOT doing it) is location marketing. Yes, Starbucks offers a free frappucino to the mayor of each of their locations. But, unless the mayor changes daily (and not even in Chicago, where there are a zillion stores does the mayor change daily – I know because I held the title for months), they are targeting a very finite number of people. Add, on top of that, the percentage of people that will actually order the frappucino (I don’t) and your audience is even smaller.

    With location, you now have access to all of your customer data – what time they come in, how often they come in, how long they spend in the store, what they buy, how much they spend, and all of their demographic information.

    What if, instead, they offered me a free drink, the kind I actually order every day, for every 10th check-in? Or a free one for every 20th friend I bring with me? Drive people into the store for something they really want. In the digital age, you can definitely target one-to-one vs. one-to-many.

    I think I’ve thought about this too much. 🙂


  • Terrific post, Jeff! Indeed, Starbucks “gets” connecting with customers… hence, “The Starbucks Experience”.. unfortunately far too many businesses think a few tweets IS Social Media.. nice to see a company who takes it to the next level.

  • Nice post. Starbuck is really doing an amazing job and leading with way with socail engagement.

    We have nice numbers of Facebook fans but we are struggling with the engagement. Maybe its the content, maybe it’s something else. I do know is we will get it figured out and push forward.


  • Mike Lynn

    Sorry, I still am not getting a “digital aroma”. When Starbucks or Peets can do this, the web “chatter”/”twit” will become more relevant. It’s about smell and taste – a Startbuck’s digital community is not so relevant to me as the infusion of aromas that are a great cup of coffee, freshly brewed.

  • Those are impressive results. I didn’t think Starbucks could get any bigger or even needed to.

    Your last point about not spreading yourself to thin should be the first. Social Media is so vast and I see a lot of people joining groups and forums, but not spending adequate time there. We have to be available on a regular basis to engage with potential customers.

  • Great post! Almost unbelievable results, quadrupled web hits? But I woudl suggest that this is because they were already a big name to begin with. They were able to adapt to the social media/online marketing change very easily because they had a huge customer base backing them. I would say that for people involved with businesses just starting out on the web, like myself, the bit about spreading yourself too thin is the most important. Don’t be overwhelmed, those numbers take time for the rest of us 🙂

  • Good on Starbucks. You are right engagement is the key not huge volumes of anything. I see people following 10s of thousands of people which might look impressive but is really quite useless as they is zero engagement.

  • Gotta love how ahead they are, at least putting great effort towards it. Just today i posted on Carpe Digi’s Facebook page this about their iPhone app (not sure youve seen it already): http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2010/10/starbucks_makes_first_hire_via_iphone.html

  • Bob

    I’ve received plenty of Starbucks gift cards, but never a Seattle’s Best or any other coffee shop. Tells me that Starbucks owns the coffee market through great marketing, and without t.v. commercials. Wow.

  • Starbucks are really one of the pioneers of how company’s are using social media to engage with their customers, another being Dell. Great post as always Jeff.

  • Doug

    In a nutshell…”Live your brand out loud”  Great article.  

  • It’s about building relationships, isn’t it though!!

  • Great post, and I agree. In addition to the dialogue they’ve created through social media, they’ve done a lot of things really well, including acting on feedback from users to incorporate small changes in their stores, building a rewards program that connects store visits and direct marketing, and developing one of the simplest and easiest-to-use mobile apps out there.

  • I don’t agree with you at all. They have been unable to scale reciprocal engagement. As a percent of facebook fans post response is actually zero  at average or 0.03% response rates. It is a bad platform. They are not reaching customers at scale. In fact 99.9% of their customers will not engage in anyway with starbucks via any social media including posting on their wall, tweeting or checking in on foursquare. I have estimated about 300mil customers world wide at least if not 500mil. With probably 1 billion potential.

    really bad case study and I personally don’t find the work of Altimeter believable since they are very biased/subjective in most of their work. Including the stats you give for things like increased website traffic. We have zero correlation from the info given this is from social vs TV or in store promotion.

    •  Why was this post linked today on twitter. I should of figured with the 5mil fan number this was old. But it is still a bad post! =P

  • Susan_walls

    The Starbucks experience please, I don’t like it for real let alone the virtual.  Coffee not nice, vessels not nice and the coffee shops untidy, it’s like a conveyor belt experience…. So what with the number crunching and stats…. the local cafe experience is far superior to the global bland approach…. Why are we like lemmings when it comes to these companies telling us what we want and what we like… Start thinking and think critically about the experience these corporate global brands offer and don’t get persuaded just because they catch up and get all hip via social media… rant over, I, thank you.

  • Suzisart

    I’m surprised that this recommends engagement by all employees- as administrators under a common identity? With FB doesn’t that lead to too many posts, driving down the distribution of the content? Or did I misunderstand? Explain, please.

  • There is a 5th very successful way Starbucks leverages it fans using a social ‘crowd sourcing’ platform by @Salesforce, and the site is http://mystarbucksidea.force.com. It allows anyone to submit ideas and other Starbuckers can vote the idea up/down. Pretty cool stuff.

  • bradhines

    what about brewing up some QR codes on the side of their cups?