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How Starbucks Crowdsources its Ideas on its Online Community: Case Study


Online brand communities are only one of the many revolutionary changes the internet has lent marketers. Whether companies have a centralized online message board for consumer discussion or a blend of different social media channels with which brands utilize and link to create the ultimate community experience for consumers, it has become increasingly crucial for brands to provide some sort of channel by which to engage the public. Having worked on social media campaigns in the past, I am fascinated by the creative ways brands find to engage their consumers and to remind them each that they are more than merely consumers—that they are important individuals with valuable ideas that deserve to be heard.

I have spent some time looking into various brands and their online communities and I thought you might find it helpful if I posted some of my findings. Consider it sort of a case study for those of you looking to begin your own online community or if you just want to scope out the competition.

I’ve always respected the organization and involvement of the Starbucks digital community, which they refer to broadly as Coffeehouse, so I thought they’d be a great example of what to do and not to do when setting up an online community. No marketing campaign is perfect, so there will be some major flaws to address along the way, but we can look at these as learning opportunities of what mistakes not to make.

Before we dig into what the community offers its registered members, let’s take a look in from the outside.

Outside Looking In



Starbucks’ online community is heavily social media based, so there isn’t a whole lot one doesn’t have access to regarding actual online brand interaction. That being said, there are definite perks to registering. So long as you have the necessary accounts you can easily view their Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, and Google Plus. The social media channels are a bit quirky and offer customized drink ideas, blogposts geared towards college students, stylized pictures of seasonal drinks, and a few chuckle-worthy videos here and there. In the Coffeehouse section of the Starbucks website, unregistered users can also view the entertainment tab, which includes a video ad for the Starbucks app (more on that in a bit) and behind the scenes footage of Starbucks’ entertainment endeavors.

Welcome to the Community


Registered community members have access to some pretty cool exclusive features. For example, if you register with a Starbucks card, you’re given one complimentary drink upon your next visit. Another perk to signing up is that you’re given access to their mobile app, which has a surprisingly large number of features for a restaurant app. It allows you to digitally tip the barista who just served you that grande triple shot, soy, caramel iced macchiato. There is also a shake-to-pay function, which (I’m not sure why) allows you to shake your iPhone or Android device to pay your bill. On top of all of this, the app allows you to quickly access the information on your Starbucks card such as points accrued, etc.


Another VIP aspect of the online Starbucks community is My Starbucks Idea. Essentially, this acts as a democratic venue where customers can voice their opinions and suggest ideas for improvement. Judging from the site, it looks as if eleven total ideas have been implemented and four are either “in the works” or “under review.” This seems like a great platform for increasing brand trust by, again, reinforcing the value of customer opinion.

One problem I see with the community is its lack of an easily accessible products catalogue. Sure, if you squint your eyes a bit you’ll find a list of some of their famous beverages, but I’d love to see a simple link to every product Starbucks offers. Why not make your consumers crave your products?

Where’d Everybody Go?

In the community page, there is little to no representation of actual people. No credits are given to a community manager, any brand ambassadors, and users are not given an interactive profile page. There is a page which they call a profile page, but it’s really just a glorified account page. I would advocate they present a few friendly, young brand ambassadors at the very least. Perhaps even include a short, relatable bio for each one…just to remind the customer that there are others out there who are like them and also love Starbucks. In fact, maybe I’ll click over to My Starbucks Idea and suggest this.


Obviously someone has to create the content, right? Unless I did some serious digging I wouldn’t know the difference. There are no credits given to writers or photographers. As far as the quick glance can tell, all of the community’s content is created by the mythical Starbucks mermaid herself, all shrouded in mystery. Users are credited for their thoughts on the My Starbucks Idea platform, however. Usernames are displayed, the time the idea was generated, how many up/down votes the post has received, and comments can be made. On the homepage of My Starbucks Idea you are also introduced to two partners who moderate the site at a given time. These “featured partners” cycle based on shifts.


Today’s featured partners are given the usernames sbx_food and sbx_evan. They work in category brand management and public relations, respectively. Their favorite drinks are also listed, which gives one of the only personal spins to the entire online community. That’s a lot of pressure to put on Food and Evan, don’t ya think?

Final Thoughts

Overall I think the community is extensive and well linked to social media. It is fairly organized and simple to navigate, which is nice. It’s also aesthetically pleasing in that sort of simple, stripped-down Starbucks kind of fashion. The community offers decent apps and a fine venue for brand improvement. I also am in favor of the fact that you don’t have to register to partake in a good amount of the site’s content. However, the community is a bit disconnected and impersonal and it could be better linked to the products themselves so people don’t get lost in content and forget why they love Starbucks to begin with…the drinks and food. I hope that you’ve found this review to be helpful and best of luck in your endeavors to come!

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