September 23, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Caffeine Buzz: Where is Starbucks in Social Media?

Caffeine Buzz: Where is Starbucks in Social Media?

As soon as Starbucks announced that they would run TV advertising this holiday season, the critics took to the blogosphere. As a brand known for building brand from the inside out, through the store employees, this move had armchair marketers wondering, “What are they thinking?” As a former Starbucks manager and a marketer, here are just a few reasons why Starbucks moving to TV advertising bothered me:

  1. Is there a coffee drinker in the free world and much of the less-than-free one who has never heard of Starbucks?
  2. What will Starbucks advertising achieve? What is its purpose?
  3. Isn’t Starbucks biggest challenge just the opposite of needing more awareness of its products? Isn’t their challenge one of over-exposure?

A week after posting those questions on my blog, bizsolutionsplus, I think there is a better question that needs asking: Why isn’t Starbucks investing in Web 2.0, the tools of social media? As a business that used the Third Place Experience (not home, not the office, but a place to get away from both) to build their brand and internally often discussed the reasons that Starbucks sells an experience, not coffee, it seems as if launching a blog is the perfect way to continue building brand from the inside out and giving customers a voice to go along with the one that Starbucks invests so much money and time in, that of listening to their employees.

While a few companies embrace Social Media, most name brands are not. Social Media is still new to us. To date, I think we have made great progress in its use. The fact that companies such as Dell are experimenting with it to create a listening and business-improvement communications tool and that the Blog Council recently met to discuss its use, tells me we are making progress. But Starbucks has shown little interest in giving community an opportunity to share their thoughts with the brass in Seattle. That seems curious to me.

I don’t know why Starbucks and other great brands have been so slow to adopt blogs, vlogs or podcasts. It can’t be for financial reasons, as costs are relatively low. Having been a gear in corporate management, from middle to executive, here are two questions I am sure are asked when the subject is broached during the weekly executive meetings”

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>If we employ Social Media, what do we do if our company is criticized?

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>How do we control the messages?

No “if” about it: Your company will be criticized. And that is good news because if you know how you are failing customers, you can fix it. When I am personally criticized or my business takes a hit, I thank the commenter and implement changes to fix the concern. If I disagree with the comment, I thank the commenter and then contact them by phone or e-mail, if I have that information, and continue the discussion. One of the greatest benefits from Social Media come ideas to make our businesses better, at no cost except for a minor hit to our egos.

Control messages? Forget it! Those days are over and controlling messages never worked that well to begin with. In Social Media, we listen, share and communicate with our customers, our haters, and our communities. We don’t spin, we don’t tell versions of the truth, but we do build relationships. If we do it right, we also contribute to building brand evangelists. Why? Because trust is build in a relationship through honest communications, not through controlling messages. By listening, responding and sharing, we build trust. The end result: Our customers spread the messages for us. And no amount of advertising or traditional marketing tool can ever create ROI that equals customer brand evangelization.

Should all businesses adopt Social Media? Probably not yet. Will all businesses at some point have to add Social Media to their marketing mix? I suspect that day is coming sooner than later.

Lewis Green is the founder and chief communications officer of L&G Business Solutions. He blogs about business and marketing at his blog, bizsolutionsplus. His fifth book is called “Lead With Your Heart.”

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