Social Media Not a ‘Marketing Play’ for Starbucks

By Matt Van Hoven 

Following a story published by AdWeek yesterday that stated a Facebook fanbase of 1 million is worth about $3.60 million in equivalent media per year, we asked Starbucks to lend their thoughts to the conversation. This was in part because the story, which leveraged a theory emanating from social platform creator Vitrue, was applied to the Starbucks brand and found its Facebook offering to be worth $23.4 million per year. Update: click here to read Vitrue’s explanation of how they came to these figures.

We’d bet that if you asked 100 brands why they’re playing in social media, they’d say roughly the same thing. It’s really the only way to handle the question in public.

Of course, this is mostly hypothetical. Writes AdWeek, “Vitrue analyzed Facebook data from its clients — with a combined 41 million fans — and found that most fans yielded an extra impression. That means a marketer posting twice a day can expect about 60 million impressions per month through the news feed.”


OK ok. So, Starbucks? How’s that fit in. We spoke with Brian Morrissey (he wrote the article) who said they just applied the figure to Starbucks fans/friends, which yielded the highly debatable $23.4 million figure. What does Starbucks think of that number? We asked:

“We don’t view social media as a marketing play,” said a company spokeswoman, “but rather as a customer engagement channel where we can have real connections with our customers, engage them in the brand and answer their questions. We are in constant dialogue with customers, participating in the communities of, Twitter and Facebook. Our engagement allows us to understand their needs, stay top-of-mind in an increasingly competitive retail environment and share interesting news about the company with a captive audience.”

The issue is of particular interest to agencies focused on developing social media strategies for their clients and, more importantly, figuring out how to sell them. In speaking with strategists it’s increasingly clear that altruistic statements like the one Starbucks made is the best public explanation for what happens behind the scenes. As in, sure, Starbucks wants the public to perceive that their social efforts are good and well &#151 but if they’ve really done their homework, there’s a team of analysts pouring over keyword, semantic and behavioral data in order to outline short-term and long-term growth strategy of their social products.

So whoever operates Starbucks’ Twitter/Facebook streams isn’t just blindly guessing what to write &#151 they’re analyzing exactly what their fans/followers are likely to respond to and playing to those topics. Somewhere way down the road, strategists say this will lead to profitability. Whether the cost of such a strategy outweighs the financial yield is probably impossible to say, but the depth/growth the brand achieves, the penetration, is highly valuable.

It’s also impossible to track and harder to sell &#151 good strategists will never promise ROI from most social executions. And therein lies the problem: figuring out how to sell a service that is capable of helping ‘brand x’ literally become part of the consumer’s cerebellum &#151 with no way of proving that’s what happened. Or that it happened on any notable scale. For this reason, it’s probably impossible to really track the value of a Facebook friend, a Twitter follower, at least in dollars.

Well, it’s one issue facing strategists, anyway. This question has always existed in advertising, and advertisers have always responded with “let’s see how sales do after the campaign ends”. Well, social is an ongoing practice.

One strategist put it to me this way: “If spending a dollar on advertising always yielded $2, brands would put 100% of their money into advertising. But it’s never been that way and as communication tools tactics fracture it is becoming harder to get anywhere near a perfect solution.”

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