What Dunkin’ Donuts Can Learn From Starbucks’ Social Strategy

Starbucks tallied nearly 17 times the engagement of Dunkin’ Donuts.
Headshot of David Cohen

Some coffee lovers adore Dunkin’ Donuts, others prefer Starbucks and still others don’t give a hoot as long as they get their caffeine fix. On the social engagement side, however, a clear winner emerges.

In a report, earned media performance platform ShareIQ studied the two brands’ engagement on Facebook and Instagram from the start of the year through March 24, finding that Starbucks tallied nearly 17 times the engagement of Dunkin’ Donuts. The battle for the $37 billion retail coffee market in the U.S. was a little less one-sided on Facebook, but Starbucks still had five times more Facebook engagement than Dunkin’ Donuts.

ShareIQ vice president of marketing and author of the report Jonathan Gardner said the two brands are the global leaders for coffee, adding, “No one has anywhere near the scale and brand recognition.” That said, Starbucks is working off a much larger fan base—more than 12 times the Instagram followers of Dunkin’ Donuts and 2.4 times the Facebook fans.

Starbucks’ legacy is more upscale, cool and subdued, and this vibe is built into its brands and its presence on social platforms, said Gardner. ShareIQ found that while both brands repost user-generated content, Starbucks does so from users with larger followings, and it works with influencers on creating “art-directed,” stylish content. Some of Starbucks’ most viral imagery is based on its colorful seasonal and special-occasion drinks, such as its Crystal Ball Frappuccino and Blonde Espresso.

The data found that Starbucks fares well against almost every fast-food brand, with engagement on Facebook and Instagram “above and beyond everybody,” said Gardner. The one thing he would change: “Starbucks could liven its style up a little bit and make it a little more colorful. It’s a little somber.”

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.

Dunkin’ Donuts also finds success with its seasonal and holiday-themed content, as well as its often-colorful feed “that relies heavily on user-generated content,” ShareIQ said in its report. Its top-performing image on Facebook to date this year promotes its Girl Scout cookie-inspired coffee flavors.

Dunkin’ Donuts senior manager of digital and social media Melanie Cohn said the brand focuses on “continually introducing new and seasonal menu items” throughout the year, keeping their social content “relevant for different seasons and cultural moments as well” to ultimately “tap into brand truths that resonate.”

While Gardner said that Dunkin’ Donuts has “kind of a fun aesthetic with pinks, oranges and bright colors” and is “doing innovative, quirky stuff,” if the brand wants to catch up to Starbucks, they have a long way to go.

Gardner expressed surprise that the brand isn’t doing better socially after upping its game to optimize its earned media accounts.

“Dunkin’ Donuts seems to look at social content as a post versus as content that can live on … across platforms and across channels. It could be focusing more on the right influencers and the right users to repost,” he suggested.

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.