Social Media Starbucks Case Study

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...


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.


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...


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!


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.

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Organization Name: Starbucks Corporation (Starbucks Coffee)

Industry: Coffeehouse

Name of contact if available: Howard Schultz, CEO

Web references:

Who Are They?
Basically you’d have to be living under a rock if you have not heard of Starbucks.
But sadly if you have, Starbucks Corporation, more commonly known as Starbucks Coffee, is an American coffeehouse chain based in Seattle, Washington with global locations.

Founded in 1971, Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, serving hot and cold beverages and snacks. My personal favourite is their signature “Tall Skinny Blonde”, which coincidentally, I am enjoying while creating this blog post.

Employee Engagement at Starbucks:
Studies have shown that employee engagement increases company moral, employee motivation, efficiency and customer service. When engagement is done well, employees remain committed to their employer. Starbucks see their employees as more than just workers but also brand ambassadors. Effective employee engagement means that employees transition from workers who show up everyday to brand ambassadors who incorporate the company’s mission into their daily work.

A company’s efforts to boost employee engagement should translate into effective and strong customer service. Effective customer servicestarts from within an organization.
Starbucks cares so much about boosting customer service from within, that they spent
$35 million to send 9,600 store managers to their Leadership Lab conference and exhibition.

Fastcompany explains what the Leadership Lab is:

“Starbucks’s Leadership Lab is, as its name implies, part leadership training, with a station that walks store managers through a problem-solving framework. It’s also part trade show, with demonstrations of new products and signs with helpful sales suggestions, such as “tea has the highest profit margins.” The majority of experiences are meant to be educational, including several that give store managers access to top managers of the company’s roasting process, blend development, and customer service.

But what makes the Leadership Lab different than a typical corporate trade show is the production surrounding all of this. The lights, the music, and the dramatic big screens all help Starbucks marinate its store managers in its brand and culture. It’s theater–a concept that Starbucks itself is built on.”

Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz elaborates on Starbucks’ employee engagement and empowerment:

“Give them reasons to believe in their work and that they’re part of a larger mission, the theory goes, and they’ll in turn personally elevate the experience for each customer–something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot.”

We can use Starbucks’ methods to see how team building and employee
engagement can lead to better customer service as demonstrated below.

4 Tips for Increasing Employee Engagement from Starbucks:

1. Treat each store like a small business
2. Make employees feel like part of the larger mission
3. Be creative with training sessions
4. Develop a mission statement that matters

Starbucks mission statement:

The Leadership Lab experience gave employees a chance to reflect on the mission statement of Starbucks:

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Starbucks invested $30 million in 2008 that focused solely on the mission statement.
The mission statement became more than just a clever-sounding phrase. It transformed into a call to action that employees could implement in their stores.

A deeper understanding of the brand helped Starbucks employees engage with their company. Running a small business within a global brand gives managers feelings of autonomy without disconnectedness.

How Starbucks uses Social Media for business performance:

Social media is all about engagement – engaging with employees, consumers, brands.
In a report by Altimeter Starbucks was found to be the most social media engaged brand out of the World’s top 100 most valuable brands despite the fact that they are a not a technology company and the top 10 included companies like Google and Amazon that live and breathe digital oxygen.

Top 10 list of Global brand’s value and engagement within
social media channels:

  1. Starbucks
  2. Dell
  3. eBay
  4. Google
  5. Microsoft
  6. Thomson Reuters
  7. Nike
  8. Amazon
  9. SAP
  10. Yahoo! and Intel (Tie)

Starbucks scored the number one spot! How did they do it?
Alexandra Wheeler of Starbucks’ Digital Strategy department explains:

“We live in the physical world with thousands of natural touch points, so when we laid out the vision for our social strategy, it felt like home for the brand. It’s about the relationships we form with our customers, not marketing.”

When approaching social media channels, it’s important to keep engagement in mind, before any marketing strategy you might want to conduct.

Starbucks and the 4 keys to Social Media Engagement:
1. Emphasize quality not just quantity
2. To scale engagement make social media part of everyone’s job
3. Doing it all may not be for you – but you must do something
4. Find your sweetspot

Starbucks VP of Brand & Content and Online, Chris Bruzzo says:

“We live in the physical world with thousands of natural touch points, so when we laid out the vision for our social strategy, it felt like home for the brand. It’s about the relationships we form with our customers, not marketing.”

Some of the results of this vision:

  • Share price now over $20 instead of $7
  • Over 5 million Facebook fans
  • Quadrupled traffic to
  • 250 million global PR media impressions
  • 487 million global Facebook impressions

Starbucks Online Community:
Aside from coffee, Starbucks is a welcoming place to gather and share thoughts and ideas and join the discussion.

The Starbucks Digital Network:
When you’re at Starbucks, you get more than free Wi-Fi – you also get to access the Starbucks Digital Network which offers fascinating, free, Internet content from a variety
of partners. From exclusive movie trailers and videos, from one convenient location.

On the Starbucks® app for iPhone® you can Shake to Pay for a quick purchase, digitally tip your barista (employee), and download the Starbucks free Pick of the Week.

Can social media efforts be financially measured?
Studies have found that the most valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social media engagement. The relationship is apparent: socially engaged companies are in fact more financially successful.

Other Resources:

Submitted By: Tina Geisel
To contact the author of this entry please email at:

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


   brand ambassadors, case study, Employee Engagement, employee involvement, employee involvement in social media, engagement, social media

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