A Social Media House of Cards: Starbucks & Foursquare Get It Wrong Again

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Article first published as A Social Media House Of Cards: Starbucks & Foursquare Get It Wrong Again on Technorati.

It was awkward. The looks that we gave each other across the counter didn’t have to happen, but they did. I was eager to participate in the Starbucks/Foursquare promotion but the poor barista had no idea what I was talking about. At all.

In the summer of 2010 Starbucks rolled out a promotion with Foursquare that offered free coffee to the Foursquare Mayor of each Starbucks location. Genius idea. I can tell you that I went out of my way to check-in at every Starbucks I ran across just to be part of the party. The only problem is that many Starbucks locations didn’t know about it, and didn’t even know what Foursquare was. Starbucks obviously isn’t the only company to fall down like this and let’s face it, they are a very large company with a huge number of locations, but considering that experience last summer I am surprised that it happened again.

Just last week Starbucks gave it the old college try by teaming up with Foursquare again, and it happened again. This promotion was in conjunction with Starbuck’s 40th Anniversary and their new coffee, Tribute Blend. Supposedly, if you checked-in with Foursquare during the promotion period you had the chance to win randomly awarded $40 gift cards by unlocking the “Tribute Badge”. When I checked-in I didn’t unlock the Tribute Badge, so I got nothin’. But since I am one of those folks trying to make a living off the social media revolution, and being a huge Foursquare fan, I made small talk with the guy behind the counter to see if anyone else got the badge. When the blank stare came across his face, I knew he had no idea what was going on, and the other person behind the counter was just as clueless.

Starbucks has always prided itself on training, and I would agree that they are a well-oiled machine when it comes to making those lattes. But this is just another example in a long line of cases of why social media outreach can be a house of cards. As the Red Cross and Chrysler recently found out, everything can fall apart so quick it can make your head spin. Now, Starbucks didn’t drop the F-bomb or publicly display their inner party-animal, but I think it does make the whole initiative look a little lame. I mean, if you are gonna play then bring your A-game, right?

It is most assuredly true, simply based on the number of Foursquare users, that the vast majority of Starbucks patrons have no idea what Foursquare is so this whole issue isn’t very newsworthy to them. But social Media users, especially those who are involved in bleeding-edge services like location-based services, are pretty savvy folks. And the target audience for the promotion were those savvy social media users, so if you are gonna do something like this, it needs to work.

Will this keep me from going to Starbucks in the future? Of course not. I love Starbucks. But I probably won’t be pulling out my phone for that Foursquare check-in. And that’s just a shame.

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