Starbucks on social media

Starbucks is exploring how it can use private groups and accounts on social media to better engage with consumers around product development and testing as it looks to evolve its social media strategy.

Speaking at an event held yesterday (13 March) by social media consultancy The Social Elements, Reuben Arnold, Starbucks’ vice-president of marketing and product in EMEA, said the moves are helping it have “deeper conversations” with some customers and bring product and marketing closer together.

“What I’m most excited about [on social media] is some of the possibilities around private groups and private accounts on social media channels,” he said. “When we think about the crossover between product and marketing, it really allows us to have a much deeper conversation with certain customers who really do care about our brand, who can then get much more involved in things like product development and testing, and we can use the audience in a much more meaningful way.”

The groups are mostly on Facebook at the moment, although Arnold told Marketing Week Instagram is also “starting to take shape”. And while they won’t replace more traditional market research practices, Starbucks hopes this can offer a more natural way of engaging and enable it to go deeper with consumers.

“Because I look after marketing and product, that really is quite an exciting opportunity,” he explained. “Like a lot of brands, we use trend analysis but social is a great channel to look at where those trends are starting to gain traction. Then through our own audiences it’s about how we create a highly engaged audience.

The crossover between product and marketing allows us to have a much deeper conversation with customers who really do care about our brand, who can then get much more involved in things like product development.

Reuben Arnold, Starbucks

“We do that with online panels but [that] is a less natural way for people to communicate and it’s not so interactive. You can do conjoint analysis on an online panel but I find that when it’s in more of a conversational environment, it allows us to be more dynamic with our questioning and explore what resonates.”

Starbucks is also using social media to listen not just to what customers are saying about the brand and its products but also trends in the market. For example, with dairy-free alternatives, social media allowed Starbucks to see that the conversation was shifting from a focus around intolerance to one around health and wellness, and then taste.

“That really helped us think, we need to get ahead of this, particularly given some of our development timelines,” he said, adding: “Listening outside our own channels is important.”

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