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March 21, 2008

My Starbucks Idea

In the comments section, a former long-time Starbucks partner questions just how much the website will engage readers and engage Starbucks. ”Pat’s" comments got me thinking more about Starbucks social media strategy. Below is my reply to "Pat"

Pat … I’m also not sold on Starbucks jumping into the deep end of the social media waters. The company has no meaningful experience in social media and has always shunned participating in online conversations.

Instead of opening the customer suggestion box floodgate, which is exactly what MyStarbucksIdea is, I would have started by taking a much smaller step and simply layered on a blog-like component to their existing website. On this proposed company blog, Starbucks could ask customers focused questions about their ideas on improving various aspects of the Starbucks business.

For example, a potential Starbucks blog post could read something like…

”As you’ve heard, we are discontinuing our oven-heated breakfast sandwiches. This doesn’t mean we are exiting the breakfast business. It does mean we are looking for morning food ideas that customers will enjoy more. I’m sure you have ideas on what food we should offer in the morning. Please share. We are listening.”

Another potential Starbucks blog post could say …

”When we launched the Starbucks Card in 2001, we had no idea it would be accepted by so many of our customers. 15% of you purchase all your Starbucks stuff on the Card. That’s amazing! Thank you. We want to “thank” Starbucks Card users even more. Please share your ideas on how we can reward you for your continued devotion to Starbucks.”

The company could reply to customer suggestions to these focused questions in the comments section. Starbucks could do a weekly round-up of the most popular ideas and post updates on which ideas are moving forward.

This focused approach to (a) participating in social media and (b) gathering customer suggestions would be easier for a company with no meaningful social media experience to manage. It would also make it easier for Starbucks customers to follow-along. The current MyStarbucksIdea website is already unwieldy — lots of wayward ideas have been suggested and many of the ideas suggested are repeated numerous times in various categories. This website will only get more unwieldy.

A more focused approach to participating in the social media waters would probably have been a better path for Starbucks to undertake.

johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy)


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Great thoughts here. I think you are right. The website will end up taking many, many divergent paths and probably none will lead to the promise land. Taking the focused approach, you'd still show that you are listening but the suggestions and ideas would have more of a concentrated potency instead of creating a diluted pool of confusion.

John, I have to disagree. I think "My Starbucks Idea" is exactly the right move. I think the opportunity to comment and offer suggestions is just what customers want. For example, when we built community for Whole Foods Market in the late 90s and experimented with various potential discussions in our forums, we found that customers focused most readily on opportunities to provide feedback on stores and service and derived most satisfaction from clear evidence that we were paying attention and considering their suggestions. If Starbuck's stubs its toe here, it'll be by failing to demonstrate that they're actively listening and following through on the discussions.

Jon ... we agree much more than we disagree here. I love that SBUX is asking customers for ideas. However, with so many ideas flooding the site, it makes it more difficult for Starbucks to listen and to follow-through on the suggestions. A more focused approach would have been an easier first-step for SBUX.

Comparing SBUX with WFM here is difficult. WFM has a long history of responding to customer suggestions. A big part of the company culture at WFM is to respond to customer suggestions. Every WFM location posts customer comments on a board for all to see. Along with the customer comment is a response from WFM.

Responding to individual customer suggestions is an integral part of the company culture at WFM. Not at SBUX. This is a major shift in company culture at SBUX. We'll see how SBUX handles MyStarbucksIdea and how this idea will evolve the company culture at SBUX.

I don't think that MyStarbucksIdea is really that significant of a foray in to social media. All it is currently is a forum for idea submission – not some ground-breaking communication tool for its customers. Additionally, as you've stated, it's not even particularly good at that.

Their time and money would be better invested in a blog or a more robust social networking site that allows more interaction among customers and complainers.

Great thoughts.
Todd "frequent reader, first time commenter" Ramsey

For those of you scoring at home, I'm comparing Starbucks to Dell, which was compared in a post that linked here:

At the moment, it doesn't appear Starbucks is taking suggestions seriously. One thing Dell's site has that I didn't see at Starbucks' is the status of the idea (e.g. "under review," "partially implemented," etc.).

The other big take away for me was the Dell users wanted to make the product better and Starbucks users want to make the product less expensive (free birthday drinks, buy 9 get the 10th free, etc.) At the moment Starbucks users don't seem to have much interest in a better product or experience.

Dell's site is far from an open dialogue, but Starbucks' site is pretty much an unmonitored suggestion box.

I think the problem is in the pudding. It's not that it was a bad idea to jump into "social media waters", but it seems to be more focused on customer feedback and giving the people a way to get things off their chest. To get back to my pudding point, the software itself it fairly limited if you ask me. It looks like another Digg clone. Where's the conversation?


You ask the right question. I don't know whether or not Starbucks can handle this new communications tool. However, as one who once oversaw a significant part of Starbucks communications efforts, I don't see "My Starbucks Idea" as all that challenging. If they can't make this work, I question the talent pool that exists today within the various communications areas.

Lewis ... sounds like you have some answers. How do you recommend SBUX solve the challenge of repeated ideas and the unwieldiness of the site? And, since you do not see the site as all that challenging, what changes would you make to have it work better?

Maybe the real issue here is perspective. Adopting social media isn't a strategy that needs to be debated but one of many tactics Starbucks should be using to figure out why people aren't buying the whole experience like they used to. They may be good at it or stink but over time they better find ways to listen and learn.


I love your ideas about the use of a corporate blog in this manner. I love the idea of managing the discussion to the areas where you want direct customer feedback, without the millions of responses you will get by asking the open-ended question Starbucks have.

I am going to implement in my business really soon.



I agree, it's a great idea but a more focused approach would have been the right way to go. To John's point, Starbucks has never been about social/community, so having a standalone website to leverage ideas from a non-engaged community seems to be bit of a stretch. I am curious as to how Starbucks is going to motivate folks to participate? If it had incorporated some type of blog/feedback mechanism as part of the site, Starbucks could have leveraged the existing traffic to that site and probably engaged the users in a much more meaningful manner. I understand the reasoning behind this move but the execution needed some more thought.

I'm giving this project a success probability of 40%. I'm not sure what they can add to the overall experience through the World Wide Web, with respect to influencing revenue increases.

However, time will tell.

John--on a completely different note, congratulations on the shout out in AdAge.
Good job!

I believe the value from this is outreach will lie in how the dialog is shaped on the blog. There is an excellent 4 part overview of crowd sourcing starting here

if this becomes an opportunity for people to share their "3rd place"
then it can take root and become a powerful "4th place" for people to share ideas and discussions and yes have questions forwarded from command central

I could see this evolve into an author ( or subject matter expert) led forum/discussion group and while this goes beyond their original mandate - it becomes a powerful wifi enabled event people can share when toting their obligatory laptops into the store.

a less expansive - but engaging idea would be to use the channel as a You-Are-In-Control-Here promotional program engaging in a hagen-dazs type coffee creation contest

but if it simply becomes a venue for people to suggest free drinks - it will be a missed opportunity for greatness

Smart folks there - I think they'll figure this out - I did or at least that's what I would do if I were president.
and yes I would be pen to accepting job offers



I agree that a blog might be a better vehicle for starbucks to dialogue with its customers. A blog promotes more of a dialogue -- and this way starbucks can actually have more control over the dialogue -- leading the commentors/customers to address questions on th e blog posts. With comment moderation too, some of the repetition can be eliminated. If the "suggestion box" format should prevail though, one suggestion is for them to apply a techinique that does -- to identify similar comments and ask the commentor to make sure that the comment is not extremely similar to the others before submitting. The use of tags to can group similar comments together.

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