Starbucks has been racking up accolades in the digital and social media space. As of July 23, the coffee chain surpassed Coca-Cola as the most popular brand on Facebook, with more than 3.6 million fans, per InsideFacebook.com, an independent blog that tracks the social networking site’s developments. It was also named the No. 1 “most engaged brand” in a report published by Altimeter Group last month. These recent feats are the result of Starbucks’ aggressive digital and social media strategy, said Starbucks digital strategy director Alexandra Wheeler in an interview with Brandweek. That's because Starbucks has moved from “experimenting” to actively incorporating and utilizing social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, in its brand marketing plans. Wheeler discussed how recent social media initiatives—like “Free Pastry Day”—are delivering real ROI for the brand, and how digital will play an active role in the fall nationwide launch of Via instant coffee. Excerpts from that conversation are below.
Brandweek: Starbucks has been getting quite active on the social media front lately. How is the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media initiatives changing the Starbucks-consumer relationship and how would you describe that progression?
Alexandra Wheeler: What I would say about social media and online communities as it relates to the Starbucks brand is that for us, the journey really began with the launch of My Starbucks Idea last March, an online community where our customers and partners—as we like to call our employees—can go online and submit their ideas, vote for other people’s ideas or add to ideas in the community. They can also see what Starbucks is doing with those ideas through our “Ideas in Action” blog. It’s a pretty robust community. It has over 75,000 ideas in it. In its first year, we activated 25 ideas through that program. It’s a significant way to co-create through that program, to inform business decisions that were underway or forming. [For instance,] we wouldn’t have had music in our stores if it wasn’t for our partner here, Timothy Jones, or [so many different] different creations of our beverages, to take what’s happening in store and bring that online. It’s a natural extension of the brand through that experiment, and through our success with that, we started to expand beyond that. It was important for us to go where consumers are and to provide a valuable and meaningful brand experience.
BW: What’s your philosophy/approach to using social media?
AW: One of the [key priorities] we have to think about when it comes to social media and our expertise there is we have to connect in ways that are relevant to those environments as well as to our consumers. One of the most powerful ways is by sharing content. [CEO Howard Schultz’s] recent trip to Rwanda is a really great example of how a brand like Starbucks is differentiating. [Schultz met with coffee farmers during the trip, while raising awareness for AIDS research.] We care deeply about our coffee origins, we are having an impact in that community and we are sourcing the best quality coffee. [Social media platforms like] Facebook and Twitter allow us to tell and show that story, make it transparent and add texture that we didn’t have through other media and to share it with a much broader audience. That’s a story unique to us and only Starbucks can tell.
BW: Earlier this month, Starbucks became the most popular brand on Facebook, with more than 3.6 million fans. What does this mean to you and how much of it can you directly attribute to the company’s aggressive push towards social media campaigns in recent months?
AW: We’re thrilled. It’s a huge honor to be the most popular brand on Facebook. We now have 3.7 million fans. We love every single one of them. We think it’s amazing and we are really humbled by that. It acknowledges that others have taken note. It has been attributed many times. Yes, it’s great and we’re really proud of that. It absolutely is intentional. When we entered Facebook, there was certainly a community rallied around our brand that was very small. Our brand is just that relevant and part of people’s lives…, but how do we nurture, grow and build that and do it in a way that is a balance between providing relevant and meaningful content, experience and offers to those communities so that their connection with the brand is really adding value to Facebook or Twitter? …[Because at the end of the day,] a brand can promote the heck out of themselves on Facebook and still not build a [strong] following if they don’t have anything behind that and only nurture and care about it as marketing, but not as relationships. We’re developing and fostering those relationships to ensure that we’re entering this space in the right way.
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