Revolutionary Measures

Starbucking up social media

Starbucks Logo

Even before their tax debacle I’ve never been a fan of Starbucks – bland coffee, relentless happiness and demanding my name before deigning to serve me have all driven me elsewhere.

But I was staggered at their ineptitude when it comes to social media. Despite being ranked as the best loved brand on social media in the US, they’ve not quite grasped that not paying millions in tax isn’t going to endear them to people here. Social media popularity fell dramatically when the true story of its tax affairs came out in October and a blog post from chairman, president and CEO, Howard Schultz, defending the company made little difference (a tip Howard – if you want British people to believe you are ‘honoured to serve them’, use the British spelling of the word.)

So what do you do if you’re at the centre of such a firestorm of criticism, particularly via social media? I’d recommend changing behaviour and reaching out to engage with people. Yet, instead the coffee giant decided to run a scheduled Twitter hashtag campaign #spreadthecheer. However, like McDonalds and Waitrose in the past, it failed to see how easily this could be hijacked and as I write #spreadthecheerPRFail is trending on Twitter. The more pleasant tweets push the merits of independent coffee shops, while the most aggressive demand that they ‘Pay your f*cking taxes’. And to make matters even worse the company installed an unmoderated Twitter wall at the Natural History Museum’s ice rink, leading to the automatic projection of abusive messages, allegedly through a malfunction of the profanity filter.

Starbucks has got its marketing, social media and ethical stance very, very wrong. And while it is facing a social media firestorm it has not helped its cause – in fact through #spreadthecheer and Howard Schultz’s blog it has soaked itself in petrol and handed matches to the mob.

But Starbucks isn’t the only brand to completely underestimate that if pushed far enough people will complain – and with social media complaints can reach critical mass very quickly and turn into a comprehensive campaign against an organisation.

This means it is time for brands (particularly ones that claim to be ethical and friendly) to re-adjust their marketing. The time of one way marketing to passive users is over. As my erstwhile colleagues Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington pointed out in their book Brand Anarchy, “Reputation is not just under siege, the ramparts have been utterly breached.” A chilling threat to some companies but also a wake up call to marketers and brands – now you need to listen, learn and engage with customers, not refuse to serve them if they won’t give you their name.

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December 19, 2012 - Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. […] With this level of data clever marketers could target you with an offer for Costa as you walk into Starbucks while the police could place you (or at least your phone) at the scene of a crime in a crowded […]

    Pingback by Mapping the world « Revolutionary Measures | March 27, 2013 | Reply

  2. […] the subject of widespread condemnation of their tax avoidance methods, and I’ve covered Starbucks inept PR response in a previous blog. Google was up before a House of Commons Select Committee last week (for the second time), backing […]

    Pingback by Taxing times for tech companies « Revolutionary Measures | May 22, 2013 | Reply

  3. […] this isn’t the case, and like companies from Starbucks to Google, Facebook has engineered its operations to minimise its tax bill. As a businessman myself […]

    Pingback by How my consultancy is bigger than Facebook UK – and that’s a bad thing « Revolutionary Measures | October 14, 2015 | Reply

  4. […] an age of social media and always-on news, every brand can feel that it is constantly under attack, even if it is for what seems like trivial reasons. Surly barista serve you coffee? Unclean hotel […]

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