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August 4th, 2010

How Starbucks Reached 10 Million Fans: 6 Tips from a Social Media Superstar

Blog Post written by Celia Jones

If you’re in the working world, you’ve probably sat through a 401(k) benefits meeting and heard the spiel:

“Saving for retirement is really important. And if you just set aside a little bit per day, you won’t even feel the contributions coming out of your paycheck. For example: think about how many times you go for that morning coffee at Starbucks. Now do the math. $5 per day x 7 days a week x 52 weeks in a year…”

When it’s framed like that, it’s hard to argue that a daily Starbucks fix can add up to a pretty hefty dent in your bank account. Yet interestingly, roughly a week ago, Starbucks became the first brand to surpass the 10-million-fan mark.

From a Luxury Brand to a Listening Brand

In these tight, recessionary times, with unemployment rampant and people everywhere feeling the financial pinch, Starbucks, once an icon of edible luxury, has emerged as a winner, warming consumers’ hearts like a peppermint latte on cold winter day.

It wasn’t too long ago that Starbucks was dubbed a brand in crisis with eroding sales, rampant store closings and plummeting stock prices. But now, in August of 2010, they are firmly on the rebound and own boasting rights as part an elite group: the 10 million fan club, which includes such social media superstars as Lady Gaga and President Obama. So how did they do it?

Returning to Their Roots

From a business standpoint, they took extreme action. Earlier this year, we covered some of the sweeping in-store changes Starbucks implemented to get back on course. They brought founder Howard Shultz back as CEO. They right-sized. They restructured. They researched. But at the heart of the turnaround was this: they went back to listening to their customers. As Cliff Burrows, a Starbucks exec in charge of American operations, stated: “All of a sudden you start to see it’s not a numbers game — it’s about consumers.”

Sounds like common sense, but nowhere does this philosophy resonate more clearly than Starbucks presence online. From Facebook to Twitter toYouTube and mystarbucksidea.com, Starbucks has used social media masterfully, as a pivotal touchpoint to engage with consumers. And they’ve set the benchmark for brands struggling to find the silver bullet of customer engagement.

Tips from Starbucks’ Social Media Maven

At the Word of Mouth Marketing Supergenius Conference last December, we were fortunate enough to glean some guidance from Starbucks’ Global Social Media Director, Matthew Guiste. Here is a run-down of 6 pointers you should employ online to jumpstart your social media strategy—with the ultimate goal being to drive action.

1.  Only post content that adds value. In order to get fans to read or watch your content, follow two rules:

A) Ask yourself: does it add value? Will it provoke thought, teach something, or make someone smile? If not, don’t add to the noise.

B) Test & refine: Experiment with different types of content (promotions, polls, videos, etc) to see which ones resonate with your audience. Guiste cited a rough 50-50% split between planned and reactive content.

2.  Look for opportunities to amplify a trend. If you want customers to respond to your message, take the time to listen to what they’re already talking about, what interests them, what irks them. Tap into the hot buttons and drive action through liking, voting or commenting. A great example: they didn’t have any promotions planned around seasonal drinks but they noticed a lot of chatter about Pumpkin Spice Lattes in the Fall. They immediately developed the “Red Cup Celebration” campaign to engage in the conversation.

3.  Social media is a value exchange. Encourage sign-ups, follows, fans, likes and email opt-ins by offering up something in return, be it promotions, coupons, tips, exclusive benefits, etc.

4.  Inspire sharing. Sounds basic but it’s true. If your content is perceived as valuable, if it resonates, your customers will naturally want to share it with friends, family, co-workers.

5.  Use social media to sell. Engagement with customers is hugely important in and of itself, but Starbucks’ business turnaround is directly linked to actions impacting their bottom line. Adept use of promotions via social channels has been a key factor in driving traffic and sales to Starbucks retail stores.

6.  Create advocates: Happy customers equal loyal customers. Positive brand interactions (such as happiness, motivation, good service or escaping from the everyday) can have a ripple effect, and the amplification online can be exponential. “Free Pastry Day” at Starbucks drove their biggest traffic day ever, with no traditional advertising—only owned media (Starbucks.com),FacebookTwitter and earned media (PR). According to Guiste, they have experienced the most success using social media for short-term, high intensity promotions, but they are also quick to point out that coordination across channels (digital and PR) is key.

Though the economy has created huge challenges for marketers, Starbucks is a great example of a brand turning around its business by returning to its roots and reconnecting with its customers. The most interesting takeaway: that their social media success is not about coffee at all—but how the coffee makes its customers feel. Tapping into that insight took them all the way to 10 million+ fans and counting.