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Starbucks is often touted as having an excellent social strategy, so it’s an excellent subject for our series of posts looking at how brands use the four main social networks.

Having previously evaluated a number of brands including Red Bull, ASOS, Walmart and Ikea, it appeared that the brands that were doing well in social all followed the same basic blueprint – they post updates several times a day and are excellent at responding to consumers.

But as this post shows, Starbucks has managed to outperform nearly all other consumer brands in terms of community engagement despite taking the exact opposite approach.

And there is a special mention for Starbucks’ Instagram feed at the end as well...

Facebook

Aside from Facebook itself which has almost 90m fans, Starbucks is one of the most ‘liked’ consumer brands on Facebook with a massive 33m fans.

This in the same ballpark as Walmart, which has 27m, however the two companies operate vastly different social strategies.

Walmart updates its page several times a day with posts including product suggestions, caption competitions and sports chat. Posting frequent updates is generally seen as the best way to maintain an engaged fan base, however Starbucks often goes weeks without posting anything.

Yet its post, which are often just attractive product images, gain thousands of ‘likes’ and hundreds of comments.

For example, a picture of the original Starbucks coffee shop with the heading ‘Where it all started’, attracted more than 150,000 ‘likes’ and 2,100 comments.

Starbucks’ social team also doesn’t seem to respond to many of these comments, if at all.

If anything Starbucks’ massive fan count and high engagement rate serves to underline the fact that there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to social media.

The other brands I’ve looked that have achieved success on Facebook, such as John Lewis and ASOS, flood their pages with numerous updates per day and do a decent job of responding to comments.

Starbucks does the exact opposite but outperforms both of these brands.

The coffee brand also has local pages for other global markets including the UK, which adopts a similar strategy towards the frequency of posts.

However the content is more varied, with videos, surveys and coupons in among the product images.

Starbucks UK is also the only brand I’ve seen so far that includes several user posts in its timeline. There are four posts from fans on February 8, two of which are ringing endorsements for the brand, while one of the others is a request for job advice from someone in Thailand.

I’m not sure why these posts are showing up on the Starbucks UK page, and really they make it look a bit untidy.

Twitter

Starbucks’ takes an equally relaxed attitude towards its main Twitter feed, tweeting fewer than 10 times a day on average.

Most of its posts are responses to @mentions, but it also tweets product images and links to its loyalty scheme every couple of days.

The content is generally uninspiring and often repurposed from Facebook, yet the feed has more than 3.5m followers.

While other brands give their social teams the freedom to engage in conversations with followers and inject some personality into their Twitter feeds, Starbucks’ content is really quite bland. Obviously this means it avoids getting caught up in anything controversial, but it also seems fairly unambitious.

The Starbucks UK feed is also relatively quiet compared to the likes of ASOS, tweeting no more than 10 times each day.

A decent proportion of the tweets are responses to customer service queries, but it appears that social is a low priority for the brand.

In fact the most notable thing about Starbucks’ Twitter feed is the momentous fail it suffered during a Christmas promotional campaign at the Natural History Museum.

The coffee brand displayed Twitter messages that used the hashtag #spreadthecheer on a big screen next to an ice rink at the museum, but forgot to actually monitor what was being posted.

Coming hot on the heels of the scandal over Starbucks’ UK taxes, the wall unsurprisingly became a prime target for angry taxpayers...

Pinterest

While its Facebook and Twitter pages are deeply uninspiring, Starbucks has one of the best Pinterest accounts I’ve seen so far.

It only has seven boards but they have more than 900 pins between them, and have attracted more than 76,000 followers. In comparison, Walmart has created 65 boards but has just 12,000 followers, while ASOS's 13 boards have around 25,000.

The boards are full of fantastic images that are almost entirely sourced from third-party sites. I think this is an important part creating a successful Pinterest strategy, and is something that a number of brands don’t seem to grasp.

I recently highlighted several brands that have run Pinterest competitions to drive up follower numbers and engagement, and Starbucks is another brand to add to this list.

In September 2012 it offered followers the chance to win a Verismo System coffee machine if they created a board named ‘It’s possible’ then pinned six images to it, including one of the new machine.

A quick Pinterest search for ‘It’s possible’ shows that it had hundreds, if not thousands of entries. Great success!

Google+

Normally when brands neglect their Google+ pages I say that it’s a symptom of the fact that nobody uses the network, but in this case it’s actually in keeping with Starbucks’ overall social strategy.

The coffee brand has more than a million followers and posts content every few days with nearly all of it taken from its Facebook page and Twitter feed, though there’s nothing drastically wrong with this tactic.

Each update attracts hundreds of +1s and up to 100 comments, which is actually a lot better than most of the other brands I’ve looked at.

Ikea, Tesco and Walmart haven't really bothered to update their G+ pages at all, but ASOS and Red Bull post content frequently and as a result have 1.4m and 1.5m followers respectively.

Special mention for Instagram

As I’ve already mentioned, Starbucks stretches every piece of content as far as it can by reusing it across all its social channels, and its Instagram feed is no different.

It looks great and has more than a million followers, but all the content is remarkably familiar.

As with Red Bull, the idea is to promote the brand as part of a lifestyle choice and as something to be enjoyed with friends.

                      

Starbucks also used Instagram to cross-promote a Google Hangout with Maroon 5, showing how the mobile app can be used as part of a multichannel marketing campaign.

David Moth

Published 6 March, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1680 more posts from this author

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Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

A brand connecting with its audience...simples

over 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Social strategies should be a fundamental part of the marketing strategy of all businesses, I still can't quite understand why it isn't. There are many major brands, including Starbucks, who do things well but many more who just don't seem to get it. Surely they must know they are being left behind?! Perhaps not. Nice post, thanks David.

over 3 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

Agreed Emma but to a certain point Social Media strategies are valuable if a business has an audience...and for many their audience is not or merely online...therefore very often all the efforts put into social media do not bring any ROTI (or ROI if any expenses are incurred) and many businesses simply end up doing social media-crity.

over 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

I agree with you to an extent Antoine but I do feel social can be beneficial to any business if they're creative enough. You might not think a business has an online audience but it isn't impossible to build one with innovative social strategies which provide value.

over 3 years ago

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Andrew Areoff

I am in agreement here with with Antoine here I have to say. There is no real point in many small companies simply plugging away at being on every single social media platform unless they have got the time (ROTI - thanks Antoine!) to dedicate to building an organic following - that means not 'buying' likes and followers and pinners.

A better spend or time investment is to use platforms like Google + to actually build authority within online search and actually impact tangibly on SERPS - and get clicked on by motivated searchers actually looking for products and services.

over 3 years ago

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Andrew Areoff

I love how these articles always cite the largest worldwide brands - they have the budget and staff/agencies to work at this kind of thing.

The mistake in my mind is for the small business owner to think they can achieve the same thing, without immense investment in time and/or money.

over 3 years ago

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Andrew Areoff

I am in agreement here with with Antoine here I have to say. There is no real point in many small companies simply plugging away at being on every single social media platform unless they have got the time (ROTI - thanks Antoine!) to dedicate to building an organic following - that means not 'buying' likes and followers and pinners.

A better spend or time investment is to use platforms like Google + to actually build authority within online search and actually impact tangibly on SERPS - and get clicked on by motivated searchers actually looking for products and services.

over 3 years ago

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Nazish Munch

Great article! What's your analysis on mobile strategies?

over 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Hi Andrew. Completely agree with you that small companies needn't invest too much time in every social network, but getting a voice on the main ones is a great step towards future-proofing an SEO strategy. Of course this starts with Google +.

But what I was highlighting was the number of major brands not properly embracing social media which I find surprising; we are still highlighting when a major brand like Starbucks does it right.

over 3 years ago

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jay leshark

Very interesting and well worth the read, I would however like to see some reasons why Starbucks is doing so well. I personally believe that you have to look at the people that use the brand. I would say there is a difference between the average customer that goes to Kmart and teh average customer that goes to Starbucks.

over 3 years ago

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Premchand Jethwa, Senior Search Analyst at Maxus Global

Jay, agreed.

Although, I think the nature of the product may play a more crucial role as opposed to the type of customer. The Starbucks fan base would be more inclined to share a picture of an artistic mug of coffee or the outside of a pretty store front as opposed to say, a Walmart car park (as an example, of course - I'm sure they'd provide a nicer image).

As this article demonstrates, duration of time spent on social media isn't directly proportional to the success of the strategy - there are other factors at play e.g the current appeal of the brand.

over 3 years ago

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Craig

One of the major causes of a failed Social Media strategy is applying it to a business problem it is not suited to or they are not geared up to support. What I am saying is social yes, but ensure the business problem is defined and appropriate. I have seen too many businesses strategies that should have spent their money elsewhere.

over 3 years ago

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Lauren

Does the author of this article realise that spending money with Facebook increases fans and engagement rates? It's clear that Starbucks has a social media budget. That's your answer.

over 3 years ago

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Premchand Jethwa, Senior Search Analyst at Maxus Global

Lauren,

That may be true to an extent, however, Google + isn't currently open to any form of sponsored posts but it still out-performs other brands in terms of volume of comments and '+1's.

Taking a look at their Google+ page, it appears that the nature of a lot of the comments are due to the nature and presentation of the product - pictures of their product are enticing enough for people to comment and +1. If we were to assume an even playing field where a bunch of brands were not using any form of sponsored social advertisement, Starbucks would still be near the top of the list in terms of success.

over 3 years ago

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Lauren

Hi Premchand, I'm not as familiar with Google+ and what goes on in the background to comment there, however I don't think it is accurate to draw comments about successful Facebook strategy without at least mentioning spend.

over 3 years ago

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Matt Redmond

Interesting article that, for me, opens up some fundamental questions about social media as a marketing tool.

The opening premise is that many people think that Starbucks has 'an excellent social strategy'. The article then shows that the result of this strategy is sticking up some fairly generic corporate content and not engaging much with customers.

Which you would think would be a recipe for failure. But the users seem to lap it up, and Starbucks is a very successful company.

So the conclusion is...?

The importance of social media is overrated as a marketing tool?

The Starbucks online audience is relatively unsophisticated and will 'like' anything with the green and white lady on?

Starbucks' high-street brand is so strong and pervasive that they don't need good social media?

What do people think?

over 3 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

A very good point Matt Redmond...no matter what Starbucks'SM strategy might be, they still would have a huge audience on various platforms...they don t need a clever outstanding social media presence - a mediocre would be sufficient...would a mediocre social media presence be sufficient for a business with a very much smaller audience? I don' t think so and would therefore not be so valuable for them...

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Matt, I'm with you 100%.

The article misses the elephant in the room - how did Starbucks get lots of likes/followers when it's Facebook activity has been under-whelming.

over 3 years ago

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Annick Eisele

I would actually say that Starbuck's social media strategy doesn't work despite the fact they don't post much, but that it's BECAUSE they don't post much. People mostly use Facebook to share with their friends and families. If a brand is "spamming" my newsfeed, I am likely to either hide their posts or unlike them.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Annick

I'd tend to agree - yet Forbes compared successful facebook players: Facebook and Walmart:

... and Walmart posted very often - so the exact opposite strategy from Stabucks!

Google for 'Walmart vs Starbucks: A Tale of Two Successful Facebook Strategies'.

So it does feel like there's some other factor that got these 2 companies their high Facebook rating - that is not about what they actually post on facebook, but some other factors at play.

over 3 years ago

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Annick Eisele

I just had a quick look at the Walmart Facebook page. Their post are quite varied and not necessarily about their brand. Cute funny photos; things to do and interesting articles to read. It's more a lifestyle feed with a pinch of posts about walmart itself. For example, I would probably share that picture of a cat with the pink rabbit ears. Then I don't know what's the conversion of this type of posts in actual spending. I suppose it might attract followers which will also see Walmart specific posts or put the brand's name in people's subconscious.

over 3 years ago

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mailaya

Great article! But I was surprised that email marketing is not mentioned on the entire page at all, not even in the comments. Touching upon Antoine's and Emma's comments apart from branding for which Social Media is great, in order to generate measurable ROI it should be integrated with email marketing in my experience.

over 3 years ago

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Marc van Wijk

To even call Starbucks' strategy a strategy is ridiculous. It's just maintentance, an "Oh yes we have to be on social media too". You don't seriously think they elected to keep their updates low to build followers, do you?

The fact that they score so big is because of one fact only: the brand. People like Starbucks, it's cool and hip, so they follow. No amount of strategy can top that. All Starbucks have to do is set back and feed the masses something every once in a while.

over 3 years ago

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Astrid

The Starbucks Canada Twitter account has loads of personality, especially when replying or retweeting.

over 3 years ago

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cindy gagné

j'ai une photo de starbucks qui apparaît sans cesse sur mon mur de facebook, tag des amis et je suis À BOUT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! je peux enlever 5 photos par minutes qui ça commence et je n'exagère en rien! Je ne veux plus de publicité de starbucks sur mon facebook, j'ai dénoncé à facebook et j'attends !

over 3 years ago

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