Using Social Media For Crisis PR – What Starbucks Could Have Done Differently

Recently, Starbucks launched a new promotional campaign incorporating social media. Starbucks fans were encouraged to take photos of new Starbucks posters and post them to Twitter with specific hash tags – #top3percent or #starbucks.

However, within hours of launching the promotion, the producers of a new documentary accusing Starbucks of union busting, decided to hijack Starbuck’s own promotional campaign. They encouraged people to take photos of themselves with posters or other signs with negative messages about Starbucks’ anti-union activities and post them on Twitter using the same hash tags as the promotional contest. I’m sure there were some furious emails flying back and forth around Starbucks that day.

Here’s what companies need to realize about social media, and here’s what I would have advised Starbucks to do.


1. Don’t be surprised. Many people have been saying this for quite a while now. The era of one-direction messaging and marketing is gone. Gone forever. It’s not coming back. Your customers have a megaphone. Yep, those pain-in-the-ass, never-please customers can now shout their displeasure to the world. And, they no longer have to wait until they get back to their PC at home or the office. Now, they can grab their smartphone and start ranting seconds later.

This type of brand and promotional hijacking is going to happen – over and over and over. And companies need to anticipate and be prepared figure to respond – or ignore – those complaints.

2. Respond. You’ve heard pundit after pundit say that social media is a conversation, and you’ve heard them say too, “Join the conversation.” Well if someone has hijacked your contest, promotion, or new product launch, now’s the time to start talking.

I’m sure that somewhere within Starbucks (probably HR and Legal), they’ve already developed talking points about the benefits of Starbucks employment (better-than-average wages, healthcare from day one for part-time employees, etc.) Why not use those facts and talking points to respond to the people posting on Twitter?

And, just because the talking points came from HR or Legal, you don’t have to be stiff and corporate with your responses. Why not something like, “Our customers are passionate about coffee. @Starbucksunionbusters doesn’t think we’re doing a good job w/ our employees. Starbucks pays better-than-average wages, according to latest employment stats link – for more info.

3. Ignore them. What? We shouldn’t say anything? Yes, I’m saying that’s one potential strategy. Have you noticed one of Obama’s strategies thus far? He doesn’t often engage with his critics. He gives an exaggerated (what a nutcase) eye-roll, or he shrugs his shoulders. A one-sided argument or shoutfest will usually lose steam pretty quickly.

If you were sitting in Starbucks HQ watching those Twitter messages, what would you have done?

27 Replies to “Using Social Media For Crisis PR – What Starbucks Could Have Done Differently”

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