Social media and your customers

There is a thread threatening to take over the Starbucks Facebook page. A self-admitted loyal Starbucks customer wrote a very long, rambling letter complaining about homophobic behavior she witnessed among Starbucks employees.

I won’t go into the detail, you can read the “open letter” blog here.

I know, in the blogosphere there is no way to know who is writing truth and who is scamming. I am not accusing the above writer of being untruthful. I am assuming that within the confines of their diatribe there are nuggets of truth.

Starbucks should be making the same assumption. Unfortunately, to date their response has been mute. This is not the first time I have seen Starbucks ignore customer complaints. While it is true that the Social Media community can often self-police, there are times when a brand has to insert itself in the conversation.

This is exactly what Target did last year, as I wrote about here.

You would think a company the size of Starbucks that has an active Facebook community of over 23 million would take the time to actually respond. More to the point, I am trying to see exactly what Starbucks’ strategy is when it comes to Facebook.

Other than pushing new drinks and getting me to re-charge my card…there isn’t much there there. What’s the point of building such a large community if you are not going to engage them?

I’m not a fool. I realize in this particular gay-bashing thread Starbucks has to tread carefully. They will need to consult with the legal experts to make sure they craft the appropriate response. And, if they are really on the ball, they will conduct an investigation.

Still, would it kill them to post something innocuous like: Starbucks is against bigotry in all its forms. We take situations like this very seriously and will investigate it thoroughly. 

Simple, clean and non-committal. They aren’t taking blame nor are they pointing fingers. It seems that if Starbucks can be so out front of social issues that they have a global responsibility section on their website, they could take a few moments to craft a post in response to this thread.

Social Media is still an evolving communications and marketing platform. Big Brands have big bucks and can succeed or fail on a grand scale. This is an advantage for us little guys – we can learn from their mistakes.

Putting your non-profit or small business in the cross hairs of Social Media means that – eventually – you will piss someone off. You simply cannot avoid it. So, you need to be prepared by doing the following:

Pay Attention: Monitor your platforms every day. Facebook makes it easy by emailing you an alert every time someone posts or comments. There are plenty of free services out there – Google Real Time, Social Mention, Same Point – that you can use to monitor the conversations on your brand. You would think a product as ubiquitous as Starbucks would be paying attention to this detail.

Respond: While you do not need to respond in real-time your response should be timely. You have asked these people to become your fan on Facebook. You are – supposedly creating a relationship with them. I could go on with the buzzword parade but the bottom line is – you owe it to them to respond. Even a generic “we are aware of the problem” shows you care. Social Media is about humanizing your brand. It helps to know that there are humans behind the platforms who actually give a damn about what their customers think.

Be honest: Transparency is the currency of Social Media. As I mentioned earlier, you do need to be measured in your response for legal, ethical or business reasons. However, once you do choose to respond – tell the truth (or, at least as much as you can get away with). Being evasive or worse – ignoring the situation – implies you are either guilty or don’t care. Neither of which is a brand attribute your customers will value.

Follow up: Every situation has a half-life. Eventually, it will get lost in the next news cycle. However, if your story does not have a conclusion it will leave your customers wondering. Better to admit wrongdoing and suffer the consequences than be perceived as being above the fray. (A lesson all too few politicians seem to get.)

Customer response needs to be a key part of your Social Media strategy. If you plan for the worst then nothing can surprise you. If you know who, how and when you will respond you will be better poised to put any negativity behind you.

From Facebook to Yelp today’s consumer is in control of your image like never before. Are you prepared to manage that?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist


Update: Starbucks responds. See the story here. Curiously, Starbucks responded via Twitter and on their blog but still has ignored the hue & cry on Facebook. Is it me or does that just not make sense?




About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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2 Responses to Social media and your customers

  1. Doug says:

    Every recommendation you offer makes sense, Steve. Is it possible Starbucks isn’t actually monitoring its own customer feedback? Sure sounds like it. If they were, why wouldn’t they hire someone, like you, to make certain issues like this one are addressed? It’s not like they’re hurting financially. They became the #3 “fast food” outlet last year, surging past Burger King and Wendy’s, and they spend a tiny fraction of the money McDonald’s does on marketing.

  2. Loretta says:

    Good content. What happens when the comment is more subjective, such as a review by an unhappy customer or a comment by an unhappy ex- employee? There seems to be good argument against response in some cases where it only dignified the comment. And how do you not create a situation where you are simply playing defense all the time?

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