People are serious about the pumpkin spice latte (PSL). So much so that this year, Starbucks has launched a members-only Facebook group to foster love and appreciation for its famous seasonal drink.

The ‘Leaf Rakers Society’, as it’s called, currently has over 27,200 members.

But, with no advertising involved and a rather niche subject matter – is it really an effective strategy?

Here’s more on the potential benefits of the group for Starbucks, and a few lessons marketers can learn from this kind of activity on social.

Adapting to change

At the very start of this year, Facebook updated its algorithm to focus on ‘meaningful interactions’ – i.e. people engaging in conversation and other significant types of engagement rather than passive activity.

For brands, this spurred on a change in strategy, with many ditching multiple Pages (where organic reach as well as engagement is now lower) and instead creating Groups (which are designed to focus on a topic that generates greater levels of activity and user involvement).

Starbucks maintains its active and popular Facebook Page, alongside other localised pages, but it has now widened its Facebook strategy to include groups.

Case in point: The Leaf Rakers Society, which is designed to unite lovers of the pumpkin spice latte through the theme of fall (or Autumn to us Brits) and everything that goes along with it.

Fostering existing brand love

So, as well as aligning with Facebook’s new focus on engagement, what does Starbucks gain?

By creating a place for people with a common interest and allowing them to explore it, the brand’s aim is to deepen its connection with its customers – and create even more loyalty in the long run.

Brand communities are not a new concept. In fact, Starbucks has its own history of creating them. “My Starbucks Idea” is just one example, whereby the brand crowdsourced ideas and opinions, making customers feel involved in the process of creating new products.

mystarbucksidea.com screenshot
MyStarbucksIdea.com

The Leaf Rakers Society is a little different, and crucially, it is far less brand-focused. In the description, there is no mention of Starbucks apart from a friendly nudge to keep it brand-related when talking about beverages.

Other than that, it feels very much like a general group about all-things Autumn, and gives members the freedom to talk about whatever they like related to it. Typical example – a member posting photographs of their Halloween decor, with other members responding positively.

It’s important to note that Starbucks itself never posts, with members doing all the talking instead. The result is a group that naturally fosters love for the brand, with no direct marketing and zero advertising dollars spent (according to Kyndra Russell, VP of loyalty and partnership marketing at Starbucks, speaking at Advertising Week New York).

Generating peer-to-peer recommendations

The members-only and somewhat secretive nature of Leaf Rakers Society also creates a sense of exclusivity. Starbucks quietly tweeted about the group back in August, but from what I can gather, there has been no other mention of it.

This instils a sense of importance in members, and automatically means the group generates engagement. Instead of randomly clicking ‘like’ or ‘follow’, users have to be invested enough to request membership in the first place, as well as have a tangible interest in the topics discussed.

Alongside general posts about fall activities – there seems to be a big trend for members posting personal photos of their own autumnal fun – recommendations are another common occurrence. One member writes “Trying the maple pecan latte with cold foam for the first time!!”

Members tend to post their own beverage recipes, as well as ask general questions and advice about Starbucks products. Again, despite the lack of direct marketing, this means that the group naturally generates peer-to-peer recommendations, contributing to buzz and excitement about the brand.

Learn more

Econsultancy runs community management training.

Gaining customer insight

As well as making its product even more valuable to members, The Leaf Raker’s Society provides Starbucks with huge insight into its customers.

While Facebook Pages can provide broad data about reach and engagement, groups can be more helpful for digging into the motivations and preferences of customers.

For example, certain posts about particular products might prove to be popular, or there could be lots of comments referring to a particular dislike or irritation about a Starbuck experience. The fact that these posts are organic, without prompt or trigger from the brand makes them all the more significant.

Overall, the very personal nature of the group (where members are generally more open and honest) gives Starbucks a deeper level of customer insight, which in turn could help inform everything from manufacturing to marketing.

Helping important causes

Lastly, the fervent community of the Leaf Rakers Society seems to have generated a more unexpected outcome – charitable giving. As Mobile Marketer reports, members of the Leaf Rakers Society joined together to help victims of Hurricane Florence. This goes to show the impact brand communities can have, with the ‘brand’ almost becoming redundant, and simply giving people a way to come together.

This is also evident in the group in smaller ways, such as members (who are strangers) becoming friends in real life, and even helping each other out with money or general support and advice. One member writes “Big shout to you guys because no “real friends” can compare to the support here ❤”

For marketers considering Groups, such high levels of user involvement are not always guaranteed. However, Leaf Rakers Society is certainly a great example to follow, effectively aligning with Facebook’s engagement-focused algorithm, as well as fostering real brand loyalty at the same time.