Starbucks’ Check In Facebook App Pushes Bland Virtual Goods

In an effort to capitalize on the popularity of virtual goods and the buzz around Facebook Places, Starbucks has created its own Facebook app which rewards users with virtual cups of coffee for checking in to Starbucks locations. However, Starbucks Check In is slow or inaccurate at tabulating check-ins, and the virtual goods are not currently compelling.

The app shows that brands can’t just rehash existing trends and technologies in order to gain exposure or improve brand perception. Meanwhile, Starbucks is running a more enticing promotion through Facebook Deals, where the company will donate $1 (up to $75,000) to Conservational International to help protect forest land.

While the Starbucks Check In app promotion seems unlikely to succeed, Starbucks has a strong track record on Facebook. Last year, Facebook gave it a “Blue Ribbon” award for its excellence in use of its Page. An hourly limited giveaway of branded ice cream, with coupons for those who missed the promotion helped Starbucks become the first brand to reach 10 million Likes. It currently has one of the largest Pages on Facebook, with 16.9 million Likes, according to our PageData tracking service.

When users install the new app, they’ll first see a count of their check-ins to Starbucks, though only check-ins made after installing the app are counted. Below this is a “What your friends are up to” feed, which really just shows what Starbucks locations a user’s friends have checked in to. The counter and feed are broken, though, often not registering check-ins at all, or taking nearly 24 hours to do so. The lack of a proper feedback mechanism is frustrating, and probably leads users to tune out.

In the middle of the app, users see a list of gifts they can unlock and share by checking in to multiple different Starbucks locations, checking in at a certain time, or checking in multiple times in one day. The gifts are just pictures of holiday-themed paper coffee cups, and are neither cute, cool, nor functional. When shared or automatically published upon being earned, there is no interesting text about the good, only a pitch for others to install the app.

One positive aspect of the app is that it includes a FAQ section explaining how Places works for those unfamiliar, and an option to turn off automatic stream publishes upon a user earning a gift. The right side of the app is taken up by a location leaderboard showing which Starbucks stores have received the most check-ins. Predictably, all three current leaders are in smartphone-obsessed California, with two near Silicon Valley.

This poorly executed promotion is atypical for Starbucks. If a virtual good doesn’t help the user, such as granting them abilities in a social game, it should at least be fun to look at. Of the nearly 300 comments on Starbucks Page’s announcement of the app, none seemed excited about the goods, and many asked why the company wouldn’t give users something useful like a coupon in exchange for visiting the business and publishing the Starbucks name to their feed. We’re asking the same question.

For more on how to use Places, Pages and other Facebook features for marketing, be sure to check out our Facebook Marketing Bible.