Starbucks has invested a lot in social media. From Twitter to Facebook to its own, Starbucks has a highly-visible social media footprint. And highly-visible results: over half a million followers on Twitter and more than 5m fans on Facebook.

Given its social media prowess, if any brand is capable of turning away from traditional marketing channels and reaching out to consumers online, it’s Starbucks. And that’s exactly what it’s doing this holiday season.

As reported by AdAge, Starbucks will be spending less money on television ads post-Thanksgiving and is instead developing online campaigns that will utilize social media channels, including some which come with a built-in audience thanks to Starbucks’ investment in this area.

Some of Starbucks’ specific online efforts worth noting include:

  • Facebook holiday photo uploads and branded virtual goods.
  • A Flickr page encouraging consumers to upload holiday pictures of themselves.
  • A branded playlist on Pandora, additional integration in Pandora’s
    iPhone app and traditional ad placements on the Pandora website.

Offline, Starbucks has partnered with Red once again and will be offering a free “All You Need Is Love” CD with each $15 purchase. The CD contains songs from artists like U2, John Legend and the Dave Matthews Band. Additionally, Starbucks will be selling Red-branded merchandise and donating more money to charity than it did last year when it donated five cents for holiday beverage purchases.

According to Starbucks VP Chris Bruzzo, Holiday 2009 is all about scaling up Starbucks’ Holiday 2008:

It’s like we’ve taken the version 1.0 of last year and now we’re really doing it
at scale and going to a lot more places where our customers already are. People are saying this is going to be a big year for social media and we’re a
microcosm of that. Whereas last year it was a curiosity, this year it’s a core
part of the program.

Going where consumers are makes sense. While the efficacy of television is proven, television isn’t cheap. Because of the economy, it’s a no-brainer for Starbucks to take advantage of the millions of ‘fans‘ it can access much more cost-efficiently. And because it has some experience with social media, it’s comfortable putting a lot of weight on the campaign.

That said, social media is no panacea for Starbucks. The past couple of years have been rough for the retail coffee brand. Starbucks’ improved profitability in fiscal Q4 was due in large part to cost-cutting measures, and while the decline in same-store sales has slowed considerably since this time last year, Starbucks success this holiday season is certainly more dependent upon consumer confidence than it is on marketing.

Starbucks still has a lot of work to do as it tries to regain its past glory, but if there’s one key takeaway it’s this: the company’s willingness to experiment with and embrace social media has given it a few more marketing tools than it otherwise would have had. At this place in the company’s history, that’s proving to be quite handy.

Photo credit: Esparta via Flickr.