Social Media Lessons from the Starbucks #RedCups Campaign

The recent controversy over the Starbucks Red Cup design reminds us that when it comes to social networks, we can create our own media but sometimes it is the users who really develop the campaign. A few weeks ago when the retail coffee chain introduced its annual holiday cup in red gradient with a Starbucks logo, the spartan design had some people wondering if it was an effort to pacify the detractors of holidays past or if something more malevolent was brewing. Some people were just happy to see the cups return to stores, despite the artistry or the intent.

Whatever the message behind the cup, Starbucks had to know its highly anticipated drinkware would initiate a social media discussion, an acknowledgement confirmed and encouraged by its self-promoted #RedCups hashtag.

What ensued was more than a discussion; it was a heated debate that quickly escalated over social networks and bled into mainstream media, drawing passionate reactions from critics as well as supporters.

But we don’t need to rehash what you may already know; we need to highlight the social media lessons that you can take away from the smoldering situation.

You Can Please Some of the People

All brands want to please all of their customers all of the time. The reality is, you will eventually receive negative feedback or an opinion that may seem out of line, and you will have to decide how – or whether or not – to respond on social media.

Silence Can Be Deadly – Or Appropriate

In the case of the Red Cup debate, many people expected Starbucks to issue a statement in response to the uproar. But in fact, the only entity we did not hear from was Starbucks. While the general rule of thumb in social media is to respond to customers – negative or not – in this case, the brand let the public response speak for the brand itself. And it seems to have worked.

Even Bad Reactions Can Be Good

Whether or not Starbucks could have anticipated this type of reaction to its Red Cup campaign is unknown, but what we do know is that even with all of the negative attention the company still received an overwhelming amount of free press on social media. Good or bad, people were definitely talking about the brand, and this could be just what a company needs to launch into other, more impactful social media marketing strategies.

No matter what your stance on the Starbucks Red Cup situation, one thing is for sure: this campaign saturated our social media feeds and the consumer conversation at large. And that’s something that, as a legacy or emerging company, will need to be considered in the delicate balance between popularizing and polarizing a brand.

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