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1 important lesson social marketers can learn from Starbucks

1 important lesson social marketers can learn from Starbucks Rick Liebling

In addition to coffee, Starbucks has managed to brew up a strong social media strategy. With one of the highest number of Twitter followers in the QSR industry, Starbucks content was retweeted 49 times more and favorited 61 times more than the sector average in November 2014. With replies comprising 99 percent of their tweets, Starbucks clearly understands the important of extending conversations beyond their cafes.

Starbucks uses Twitter primarily for customer service. Of its 6,368 tweets in November, only 34 were proactive. However, within those proactive tweets, the company found a winning recipe for aligning social strategy with business objectives. Social marketers can learn a lot from how Starbucks used Twitter Cards to target a specific audience and increase downloads of their popular mobile app.

Disparity in paid tweet engagement

We analyzed the 34 proactive Starbucks tweets from November and found that 15 were promoted (paid). There are multiple ways to promote content on Twitter, primarily through Twitter ads. One such way is with Twitter Cards -- an additional piece of real estate that allows marketers to showcase rich photos, videos, copy, clickable calls-to-action, and the like. Of the 15 promoted tweets, eight used Twitter Cards. It's interesting to note that these tweets have not been their most engaging content.

Of the eight Twitter Cards, a couple received high engagement, while others underperformed. We took a look at each of these cards to understand why one was favorited more than 16,000 times, while another received only 167 favorites -- nearly 100 times less.

Interestingly, we found that Starbucks published five of these eight cards on November 6, possibly in conjunction with an offline campaign. Of these five tweets, three promoted their Starbucks rewards offer, and two promoted their Starbucks app in the App Store, which had released an update three days prior. Starbucks published all five tweets within a 30 minute window, so the audience the tweets reached should have been about the same. Why then did the two posts for their app get 10 times more favorites than their reward program tweets?

One of the obvious differences is the type of Twitter Card used. The two most engaging posts were promoted with the objective that Twitter refers to as "app installs or engagements." This means that when a user clicks on the Twitter Card, they are redirected to the app store, where they can download the app onto their iPhone, iPad or other Apple device.

On the other hand, the three Starbucks Rewards tweets were promoted with the objective of "website clicks or conversions," where users were redirected to the Starbucks Rewards web page.

Was the kind of card used the sole reason for the disparity in engagement? Unlikely. In fact, prevailing wisdom says that tweets with images garner higher engagement than those without. So, what gives?

Micro-targeting for business results

Most likely, Starbucks put Twitter's audience targeting to its best use. Did you know that on Twitter ads, you can target not only by gender, region, and language, but by device as well? Simply put, with their Twitter Card redirecting users to the app store, it made sense to target only iPhones, instead of wasting money or reach on other smartphone devices, or even on other iOS devices like iPads and Macs.

Another interesting tactic is the timing of these tweets -- during the post-lunch lull, when everyone is usually jonesing for coffee. What Starbucks banked on was a potential customer scrolling through their Twitter feed on their iPhone, not really able to focus on work after lunch, coming across the tweet, and downloading the app to find the nearest Starbucks. The entire strategy -- from start to finish -- is calculated to align with business objectives.

What can you learn from this?

It wasn't just one factor that made these tweets work so well for the brand. It wasn't just that they were paid for, because other promoted tweets received much lower engagement. It wasn't just the timing of the tweets, as there was no uniformity in engagement in the same time frame. It wasn't even just the type of card used. It was the combination of all these factors, coupled with the customer insights that Starbucks has undoubtedly gained that resulted in success.

The ultimate ROI for Starbucks (and any business) is customers who are ready to buy. Though we don't have access to the number of customers in the time period of this Twitter campaign, according to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz during their fourth quarter earnings call: "The Starbucks app processed $1.17 billion in 2013, and the company has already processed nearly $1.4 billion in 2014 by the app alone; it's expected to reach $2 billion by the end of 2014."

As social media heads towards a purely paid model for brands, it will be increasingly important to tie social marketing efforts to larger business objectives.

Rick Liebling is head of global marketing at Unmetric.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Rick Liebling is Head of Global Marketing for Unmetric. He is a veteran marketer with more than 15 years of agency experience and leads Unmetric's marketing initiatives across the brand, product and content communication strategies.

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