Case Study: Starbucks Social Media Marketing Strategy

With more than 17000 Starbucks stores in the world, spanning throughout 49 countries  , and with significantly higher prices than the market average, the Starbucks enterprise is a tale of success, and a direct result of a genius social marketing and branding strategy. At the core of the business their signature fresh, dark-roasted, full-flavored coffee brews and beans consorting with specialty teas and blended beverages, the special ambiance, its principles and its sense of connection and community; it’s all about creating the ‘Starbucks Experience’, which is the soul of the business, a place to gather, talk and enjoy the allures of their savory brews, a ‘Third Place’ in people’s lives between home and work, for customers to feel perfectly comfortable and imbued with familiarity. Connecting and engaging with the customers is a very important aspect of Starbucks philosophy and one of the reasons why they have been so successful in their social media strategy.

Starbucks Social Media Marketing Strategy

It has been established the company’s conscious efforts towards building a relationship and creating interaction with its customers, but it took the company a few years of trial an error  to finally get the formula right and assimilate the prowess of social media. It wasn’t until 2008 that Starbucks finally started to get things right and to follow the path that will endow them with the very impressive feat of becoming the number one brand on Facebook. In 2008 Howard Schultz made a comeback as CEO, refocusing the brand efforts into reigniting the emotional attachment of its customers. The importance of conveying this interaction with the brand into the online arena was brought in by Alexandra Wheeler, who was hired also in 2008 as the Director of Digital Strategy, and responsible of launching the thriving ‘My Starbucks Idea’ website, a social media initiative that promotes the concept that Starbucks is more than just a cup of coffee and refocus the attention on its customers. The company created this portal where Starbucks customers and employees can make suggestions and share ideas to further improve the ‘Starbucks Experience’, ingeniously getting their market to do their marketing and at the same time increasing their involvement with the brand, making them feel as part of the process of the decision making and by extension of Starbucks itself; a form of collaborative creation culture that is incredibly appealing to ‘millennials’, very much aligned with internet culture in general and in some ways similar to Microsoft’s strategy in their Windows 7 campaign “I’m a PC, and Windows 7 was my idea”

Started on October 2008, Starbucks began to actively engaging in social media, official Starbuck Facebook fan page is one of the major social networking sites for the company. Starbucks started to connect in to the cyber world of social media, and that is speak for itself in the  number of “Fans” the company is engaging with. Facebook as a social media platform that has incorporates with different types of videos, content, and has active interactive activities with the fans.

Starbucks operates under the company’s objective to “stand as one of the most recognized and respected brands in the world”. The company found a large-scale and interactive way to do that: social media. More than 38 million Facebook page “likes”,  7 million Twitter followers, as well as their own social media site, My Starbucks Idea, Starbucks is looking for innovative and creative ways to connect with customers.

Social Media Marketing Strategy

Starbucks has a small social media team with only six people; however they obtained a high level of engagement with their consumer in social media. On the other hand Starbucks has building social media as a key part in their marketing mix, a stable platform for advertising and promotions. At the same time it creates a centre of attention to attract web traffic to the social networking site fan page with heavy advertising and promotion activities. Alexandra Wheeler stated that, “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.”

The social media marketing strategies that Starbucks are using include special offers, coupons, sapling and discounts distributed through Facebook, because Facebook is the main social networking site for Starbucks. In the year 2008 Starbucks promoted the world’s biggest Facebook ad campaign that including Facebook members in 16 that will be served ads for a Starbucks charity sing along of The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’ when user log in. Starbucks undertook the biggest global Facebook ad campaign the purpose is to raise awareness of the project, which was a celebration of its partnership with Project Red, the charity with the aim to fights Aids in Africa. This particular campaign has invited people to take part in stores which Starbucks donated a percentage of the cost of each selected product sold. The social media campaign that carries out this initiative received as the “most viral impression ever”; result of millions of people aware of the Facebook digital invitation which given respond. Promotion event on Facebook by Starbucks with the title of “Free Pastry Day” promotion allowing exclusively for Facebook fans of Starbucks to print out the online version of coupons for complimentary item with a drink purchase. Through this particular event in July 2009 it further added 200,000 fans just in a week. In the same year, by promoting the launch of the branded ice cream, Starbucks offering coupons for free pints via the Facebook application. Besides, Starbucks also used Facebook to promote a “Taste Challenge” together with the launch of Starbucks VIA instant coffee, offering participants with a free cup of Starbucks’ coffee will be given on their next purchase and discount of USD 1 with the VIA instant coffee purchase.

Starbucks successful created high level of attention throughout the product promotion on Facebook with encouraging results. Traditional direct marketing practices for example offering discount and promotion are the keys on building engagement on social networking sites moderately focusing on to create deeper relationship and connection to a brand. CEO of social media management firm ViTrue, Mr. Reggie Bradford illustrious that Starbucks has the advantage on take in charge and managing all the Starbucks stores, provide an easier way to run standardized marketing programs that team up with Facebook.

More significantly, Starbucks well manage with various types of updates that content, and interesting that includes blog articles and videos sharing that cover all aspects of coffee that includes how to grow coffee beans, pieces of writing about Starbucks and Starbucks employees. The tone and pitch of the updates is informative and relaxed, in addition even on their own product updates are kept in a wide-range that enough to remain interesting, for example, by offering and introduction up reviews of new music and books to be displace and for sale in their cafes. Therefore, the well managed and quality status update content has achieved a very engaged fan base, with every update on the social networking site will receive thousands of feedbacks and comments.

One of the typical platforms that make Starbucks so popular on the social media front is the concept My Starbucks Idea. It is a channel that allows customers to share any comments or suggestions on how to improve the overall Starbucks experience. Although many people may have the idea, which is crucial, because of how these concepts are selected, so that they keep existing customers and attract new. My Starbucks Idea is that the consumer portal, Starbucks customers can share ideas or suggestions on how to improve the “Starbucks experiences”. The site allows users to see the recommendations put forward by others, vote on ideas, and check out the results. One of the purposes is to find these ideas to better serve existing customers and help them get new ones. This site is an important aspect of Starbucks social media marketing strategy. Users who are parts of the network feel they are parts of a certain role in the company’s decision-making processes. In the My Starbucks Idea campaign it was important to have an application that allowed any person to access with the internet. It was important to keep the technology simple in order for people of any age to access it and add to it. The My Starbucks Idea was an extension of the website; it was a simple page with simple instructions. With the My Starbucks Idea platform, Starbucks wanted a greater interaction with their customer. Not only did Starbucks change their relationship with the customer, they created a collaborative environment between the customers to comment and vote about each idea, thus, providing a trusting relationship and building communication to further the brand.

Starbucks has a YouTube channel and contains different video assets. They have coffee blend of advertising, information. They also have some of their charitable work of video assets. Over 4900 subscribers Starbucks YouTube channel. They explained the different coffee mixed origin and their charitable work video upload video ads and promotional videos. They can also upload videos to showcase their history, so that people can be more involved in the brand.

Success of Social Media Strategies

Following by reviewing the successful social media marketing strategies that used by Starbucks and the way the coffee giant fully utilized the opportunities of social media to create an interactive and interesting business approve. The level of engagement of a brand in social media will bring different level of success. As Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks said “We’re not just selling a cup of coffee, we are providing an experience”. This implies that customers’ satisfaction is given top priority. In order to do so Starbucks serve coffee with great taste and quality. Not only quality the treatment of customer is excellent and the variety of beverages served is  good. Based on the principle of providing an experience to the customers social media is a latest and most advance technology in communicate that can be personalize between the company and their customers. Coffee house giant Starbucks continue to develop its social media operations in attempt to extend its relationship with its end users. The reason for advertisers using social media is to “go where consumers are and to provide a valuable and meaningful brand experience,” according to Alexandra Wheeler. Although the challenges of the economic downturn, Starbucks posted profits of $242m in Q4 2009, as revenues rose 4%, to £1.7 billion, mostly as a result of improved Starbucks store sales.

Social network is all about building a community around the brands and the products, promoting, sharing and discussion. Get involved in the social network regularly, completely understand the content and focused to the topic is being said amongst the social network community, and the targeted audience before engaging.  Based on the number of people involved has created a strong awareness outcome at the same time it had increase the sales at the period of time. The result on social media has the similarity outcome with the advertising objective that can be achieve through the social networking site.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks stated that “the global economic recession has very much shaken consumer confidence and retailers which wish to stay relevant in the future will have no choice but to recognize and respond to this new reality and to continue and to accelerate. Starbucks current direction with continue to improve, innovate, and focus on strengthening the relationship with their customers.”

Starbucks persist as one of the brand that gains most popularity on Facebook, with sites now launched globally in 14 countries. In 2009 the consultancy company Altimeter Group, positioned Starbucks is of the brands make good use of the web properties, and Schultz stated that they would be integral to its operations going forward. “The importance of our social media expertise continues to grow, and we evolve the conversation with our core customers.” Engaging with the millions of consumers through social media is a success. Multi-step flow is the extension of two step flow theory. A strong multi-step flow and personal influence model being involved in the process. The potency of word of mouth that can give a depth of credibility other form of communication cannot. Because of the nature of social media, the process of opinions and comments flow around in the social media, at the same time the social media management team will be able to monitor and provide instant reply.

Starbucks brand, content and online vice president Chris Bruzzo, told “It’s like we’ve taken the version 1.0 of last year and now they are really doing it at scale and going to a lot more places where their customers already are and people are saying this is going to be a big year for social media and they are a microcosm of that. While last year it was a curiosity, this year it’s a core part of the program.”

Syncapse Consultancy Company conducted a survey in an effort to gain understanding of the long term business value that generate by social network, based on twenty most popular corporate users actively engaging in social network that includes Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dove, Gillette, Nokia, Nike, Victoria’s Secret and Red Bull. The result found out that consumers who “like” a product in the Facebook feature were found to spend £93 a year on the item in question, $71.84 more than the shoppers who have not performed the action. Starbucks is one of the brands that scores at least 80% in the category of building “empathy” among their fans. Besides, the products of Starbucks scored over 90% associated with the feeling consumers that result in “warm”, “gratified” or “happy”. The result in the survey illustrate that long term brand value can be build by using the social network, independent social network campaign should be taken to increase the value of their company through their fan.

The involvement of social media has became a importance role in achieving this aim, one of the Starbucks campaigns join together with Project Red to help promote fight AIDS in Africa, which was promoted using social media Facebook, where Starbucks has more than 5.5 million “fans” in end of 2009 that became the most popular brand second by Coca-cola and does not take long for Starbucks to achieved 10 million Facebook fan in July 2010. Schultz mentions that the effort of creating the world largest campaign ever on the Facebook social media platform is further strengthens Starbucks unique connection with their customers. Alexandra Wheeler stated that the campaign has became the most viral event in the history of Facebook and meant that this not only were trigger customers excited about the Starbucks at the same time the customer also came together on one day to accomplish something excellent. Take as a whole; she asserted that Facebook helps them get a pulse on the important to their customers. The organization can have a direct communication dialog with their customers about the values and ideals that they gained and share the valuable experience with them.


Starbucks social media marketing strategy consists of many different elements masterfully integrated and combined, involving millions of loyal fans boosting their branding. It was one of the first companies to adopt and take advantage of Twitter ‘Promoted Tweets’  and, currently, one of the most tweeted brands; at least until the Old Spice campaign took internet by storm. At Starbucks they are aware of the cultural influence of Twitter, “If it doesn’t happen on Twitter it probably doesn’t matter” said Brad Nelson, ex-barista and current social media strategist responsible for Starbucks Twitter account. Looking at the way other brands, like competitor Dunkin Donuts  , have to interact with their followers, clear differences in the style are perceived and probably the reason why Starbucks has over seven million Twitter followers and Dunkin Donuts just about 87,000. But is not only about Twitter, they know that they have to keep their content relevant and adding value without overloading across platforms, nurturing the organic connections that the digital media promotes, delivering a personal experience, galvanizing customers over a shared idea.

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