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Food for thought

Starbucks still not sure how to go social

By Ankush Chibber , 25-Feb-2013

In his latest column, Ankush Chibber looks at Starbucks' latest social snafu and wonders why brands don't learn from their mistakes.

The arrival of Starbucks was heralded by mainstream India as a gold medal for the economy—a pat on our collective back for finally having made it.

But should we really be so complacent and self-satisfied?

Earlier this month Armaan Kapur, a young designer and writer, visited a Starbucks in Delhi. With a friend, the pair joined a long queue that snaked outside the store, so Kapur asked his friend to go inside to find a couple of vacant seats. 

However, this did not please the store’s security guard one bit, and he immediately asked them to get back and join the end of the queue. (I know what Western readers are thinking right now, but I can assure you that India’s McDonald’s and Starbucks really do have functioning queues).

Angered by this, Kapur resorted to the common complaint form of these times: he went social. He called up Starbucks’ Facebook page and left a rant that would go on to go viral, with 5,200 likes and 300 comments. 

Starbucks remained quiet as the post’s popularity grew, and then finally it responded. In the most hairbrained way possible. 

Some person decided to delete the post. 

As most sane people realise, this is absolutely not the thing to do when it comes to social media, especially as Kapur had taken screenshots of his post. Helped by hordes of crusaders on Facebook and Twitter, his cause ran full tilt to injure Starbucks’ reputation by the worst way possible: word-of-mouth.

This is not the first snafu by Starbucks of this sort; it recently had a similar crisis in Argentina , and the repercussions there are still being felt. Nor is it the first food brand to have acted dumb when it comes to social media. Nestle comes to mind immediately in that regard.

The simple truth is that what could have been fixed by a couple of free coffees and a quick apology came to be such a bad mess. And as it turns out, that’s what they finally did .

It only reiterates what most journalists have been saying about brands and social media–the former does not understand the latter. 

Its not much of a mantra as one old-world media marketing guru said. You have to be like you would be in person, honest and polite.

Have your say: Do you agree with Ankush? Let us know in the box below.

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