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How Starbucks’ social strategy won the holidays and drove sales

Social media chatter around Starbucks and its specialty offerings was at an all-time high in December as the chain leveraged holiday by encouraging guests to upload drink photos and urge friends to visit its bricks-and-mortar storefronts to get their own taste of the themed beverages.

Starbucks’ social media strategy during the 2014 holiday season helped it nab the top spot on social media management dashboard Hootsuite’s monthly Love List, proving that the brand continues to rise from strength to strength by bolstering engagement with its community, promoting its holiday drink specials and leveraging its already-strong loyalty program. Fans of the beverage brand were quick to upload pictures of Starbucks’ signature red winter cups and boast about receiving their popular holiday drinks, which include the new Chestnut Praline Latte and the fan-favorite Pumpkin Spice Latte.

“Again this month, it’s all about accessibility over luxury on social,” said Mark Pascarella, general manager of Hootsuite Analytics. “And interestingly, even though many people’s first thought during the holiday season is shopping, it seems that fans see Starbucks as synonymous with the holidays.

“Don’t underestimate the power of the Peppermint Mocha and its kin: at least on social, Christmas means flavored coffee drinks and red cups. Truly concentrating their efforts on building excitement for the holidays amongst their fans can give brands a big boost.”

Keeping the top spot
Hootsuite Analytics ranks brands each month based on social monitoring.

Food and beverage brands dominated the December 2014 Love List, with four brands from the sector receiving spots in the top 10 of the list.

Starbucks’ passionate fan base was quick to Tweet photos of themselves posing with their red cups as a celebration of winter officially starting. Other customers Tweeted or posted excitement about purchasing the brand’s limited time holiday drinks, with the Peppermint Mocha in particular garnering quite a few mentions.

“Starbucks has been making a home for itself on the Love List over the past few months ever since launching its ‘win Starbucks for life’ contest last fall,” Mr. Pascarella said. “It made the top 10 list in both November and again in December, so it definitely benefited from its momentum as a fan favorite.

“That being said, competition is tough in the social realm, and Starbucks isn’t alone in its repeat Top 10 performance: Chanel, Friskies, Twitter, Disney and Cheetos all held their places as well. All it takes is one social campaign to go viral to displace any of the current leaders,” he said.

Other food and beverage brands to enter the top 10 were Cheetos, Taco Bell and Chipotle.

Taco Bell earned its place thanks to its commitment to entice a younger demographic of consumers via promotions on social media mobile applications Snapchat and Instagram. The brand also gained social media mentions with a campaign that offered a free Dorito Loco taco to every customer that downloaded its app (see story).

While Starbucks’ winter offerings were able to catapult its social media presence even higher this season, the brand must maintain conversation among its fans to leverage the positive buzz.

“Despite its stellar social presence, it remains to be seen if Starbucks will maintain its lead now that the holidays are over,” Mr. Pascarella said.

Hootsuite’s December 2014 Love List’s top five brands for social media engagement were Starbucks, Chanel, Friskies, Urban Outfitters and Twitter, respectively.

Emotional component
Brands seeking to spur sales of their products or services must have an emotional component in their campaigns that will set it apart from the countless other promotions available during any given time.

Hootsuite ranks brands each month using three main data points: the total of brand mentions received in social media posts, its percentage of social conversations that use the word “love” in a month and its sentiment score (see story).

“Besides the accessible over aspirational theme that dominates from month to month, there are a few other tactics which brands at the top seem to consistently demonstrate: humor, coupons or deals through social, viral videos featuring cats (Friskies has been a consistent presence at the top of our Love List ever since launching their “Dear Kitten” video series) and quality, beloved products that cross all categories and types, whether it be Chanel, Secret deodorant or Chipotle,” Mr. Pascarella said.

“And of course, the magic word in social: engagement, engagement, engagement. Top brands like Taco Bell reply to all questions and mentions on social and promote great user generated content, which gives them a huge boost amongst their audience.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York