Starbucks and Twitter: Hash Tag Hell

Here’s a lesson in the new world of marketing brought to us by coffee giant Starbucks, Twitter,  and a host of activists.

I was reading about this on David Meerman Scott’s blog where he referenced a post by Simon Owens about an ill-fated social media campaign by Starbucks

To say “sounds like Skittles” is an understatement of a viral campaign gone haywire.

Starbucks, in the spirit of using social media as a marketing tool, launched a big campaign where it hid posters around 6 major US cities and challenged the public to find the posters, take photos, then post them to Twitter using hash tags Starbucks created for the campaign.

The winners would get prizes.

This would have been all fine and dandy if everyone in the world loved Starbucks as much as their marketing department and fans do, but the campaign happened to coincide with an anti-Starbucks documentary project that aired on YouTube at the same time.

Catching wind of the promotional Twitter campaign, activists commandeered the Starbucks hash tags to create a stream of anti-Starbucks Tweets. They created a picket line on Twitter- a Twicket Line?


It brought visibility to the cause of disgruntled workers, galvanized die-hard Starbucks supporters, gave unions something to Tweet about, and gave a voice for people who despise unions. Buzz, yes. The kind of buzz Starbucks intended? Probably not.

So let’s weigh things out:

1. As in many parts of life, if you use social media for a viral campaign you have no control over the life the project takes on. That’s what makes it so exciting and nerve wracking.

2. If you’re a big company using social media campaigns where public input becomes the content of your campaign, see #1.

3. If you launch a campaign that gets pulled off course, be gracious.  A Starbucks spokesperson celebrated freedom of speech when asked to comment on the incident.

4. Pay your people well and honor your employees.

What are you thoughts?

Share this resource!

Share on Digg! Share on Delicious! Share on StumbleUpon! Share on Google Buzz! Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest
  • DeAnna Troupe

    I need to preface this by saying that I am a self admitted Starbucks fanatic. This was a very well balanced post. I especially liked the last point about honoring your employees and paying them well. Now they have a very public way to voice their displeasure. Keep up the good work.

    <abbr>DeAnna Troupes last blog post..How Facebook Games Can Help You Network</abbr>

    • Nancy Marmolejo

      Thanks Deanna, I'm not even a coffee drinker so I could have gone on big rant here and not cared a hoot… I appreciate your feedback! Cool heads prevail, that's something I try to remember.

  • Gina Carr

    Thanks for sharing Nancy. This is an important lesson for those of us helping businesses with their social networking. It would have been very hard to anticipate such an outcome. You point about being gracious if things go wrong is excellent.

    Gina Carr

    <abbr>Gina Carrs last blog post..Armand Morin Release Best Training Program EVER!</abbr>

  • Leah Shapiro

    Good reminder about using Social Media as a way to market…it can totally get away from you and backfire. I never considered that happening! It seems like if you are not careful, you can make a big fool out of yourself out there, or at least been seen in an entirely different light than you intended. Thanks for another post that makes me think!

    You Rock!


    <abbr>Leah Shapiros last blog post..Conformity Thwarts You The Most</abbr>

  • GMoney2009

    Excellent point. I have two twitter personalities, one for business and one for my most outrageous thoughts. I use hashtags on both, and I must admit on my "crazy" "boisterous" "sometimes rude" personality, I hijack hashtags all the time to get in front of those whose opinions I am criticizing. From my own behavior, I have recognized the potential for failure in a business setting. Thanks for the great post.