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Bloggers Hopped Up on My Starbucks Idea

Bloggers Hopped Up on My Starbucks Idea

Judging from the high level of early and enthusiastic buzz, Starbucks seems to have a winner with its interactive tell-us-what-you-really-want Web site, My Starbucks Idea. Some skeptics are wondering whether the whole thing could backfire, though, if Starbucks fails to react quickly and favorably enough to the will of the people.

By Erika Morphy CRM Buyer ECT News Network
04/01/08 4:00 AM PT

You would think, based on blogosphere chatter, that Starbucks invented Web 2.0. The company's introduction of My Starbucks Idea last month has inspired numerous bloggers -- some who make it their business to follow Web 2.0, some who could care less about the space -- to post about the new site.

Basically, My Starbucks Idea lets users post suggestions on how to improve Starbucks; others in the community then vote on the ideas and rank them.

The high interest is partly because it's Starbucks, said Mack Collier, author of the blog Viral Garden, which focuses on marketing and social media.

"Also, as far as corporate initiatives go, it is pretty unique -- not counting what Dell is doing," he told CRM Buyer.

After several days of watching the site and monitoring the blogosphere reaction Collier -- whose first post on My Starbucks Idea was featured in this column last week -- hasn't wavered much from his original viewpoint: Starbucks has much to lose if it doesn't handle this correctly.

"It better be careful," Collier said. "It will be under a microscope, and its margin of error is much smaller."

From Gloom and Doom ...

To be sure, not all bloggers share Collier's gloom-and-doom prognostications. Many are thrilled by the Seattle-based coffee conglomerate's outreach effort. In fact, a quick tour through the blogosphere reveals that bloggers are lining up on all points along the spectrum.

"Starbucks' new customer-community-let-us-hear-from-you idea shows how hard it is to do the social marketing thing and it also shows how corporations sometimes take good ideas and drain the life out of them and then present the morphed idea as the real thing," writes Denis Pombriant, principal of Beagle Research.

The secret of community success "is that it must be active and it must be actively managed," he says. "That means you should pick your community members -- I didn't say you should stuff the ballot box but you need to pick the members -- so that you have a representative cross section of your customers. The data that comes from a cross section of your customer population will be more accurate (not perfect) and enable you to make reasonable extrapolations.

"If you pick your members you also need to specifically pick what you ask," Pombriant continues. "Open ended questions that solicit rants might make it seem like the vendor is really interested in community input but, again, it simply leads to chaos."

...To Unbridled Enthusiam

The My Starbucks Idea site has a positive community vibe, according to Charlene Li, a Forrester analyst, self-described loyal Starbucks' customer, and operator of the blog Groundswell.

"I want to subscribe to your Ideas in Action 'blog' via RSS (really simple syndication) so that I can find out more about what's new -- and to see if my favorite ideas are being implemented," she suggests.

"I want to comment on your blog too," Li continues, "to let [you] know that I'm happy/not happy about your future decisions. Close the loop, and you've not only got me hooked, but I'll walk the extra block in NYC or drive the extra mile to go to you rather than another coffee house."

Many bloggers, according to Becky Carroll, seem to feel this is merely a PR move for Starbucks. [*correction]

"Starbucks can easily listen in to customer conversations many places online (and offline) to understand what customers want," Carroll observes. "They can also engage in many places online to continue a conversation. By creating the MyStarbucksIdea site, Starbucks sets the expectation that they want to enable a conversation, join in, and connect customers with each other."

Instead of focusing on its merits for Starbucks and its customers, some bloggers are wondering if the idea might translate to other industries -- say, banking.

"I believe that every financial institutions should have some type of suggestion program even if it's just an email address (suggestions@yourbank.com)," writes Jim Bruene. "And I think the open Starbucks approach could work very well. However, if there are no ground rules, most banks and credit unions will be innundated with 'ideas' to lower fees, raise savings rates, and so on. As much as you don't want to stifle discussion, you may have to restrict or even forbid suggestions about pricing. Most people will understand that your pricing decisions are not made via the consensus of a public user forum no matter how many votes 'interest-free loans' receive."

In a blog posting about the larger initiatives under way at Starbucks, The Marketing Spot blog gave a thumbs up to the site with an interesting twist on customer wisdom.

"This is the first idea that has some potential of customer experience improvement," writes Jay Ehret. "I think I'm worried that the focus of the new online social network is about getting ideas from customers. This is a subscription to the new media myth that customers own the brand and not you. That somehow, customers will solve the problems you cannot. You can get some good individual ideas from customers, but mostly the wisdom of crowds is flawed."

What is perhaps most interesting about My Starbucks Idea is that it is capturing the imaginations of a broad cross-section of bloggers -- including people who don't have a stake in the Web 2.0 space.

Average Joe

For example, when Mr. Noobie at What's Noo signed onto the site to submit his idea -- tying his favorite drink to his Starbucks gift card -- he found that someone had beaten him to the punch. Specifically, 1,651 people "based on this idea's point total of 16,510 (an idea gets 10 points added to the total each time someone votes for it)."

The Starbucksters Blog -- "my outlet for All Things Starbucks," written by, who else, Joe Barista -- questions whether Starbucks is censoring the site.

"It looks like my account has been deleted on MyStarbucksIdea. ... I searched and searched, even finding one of the ideas I commented on and found my comment was gone. ... So I created a new account. User name JoeBar." He also bought the domain MyDumbStarbucksIdea.com.

The My Starbucks Idea rubbed some bloggers the wrong way from the get-go.

"My first reaction [was] how bloody patronizing and pretentious! Who do they think they are, The Body Shop?" writes Toby Ward on Content Matters. [*correction]

"To my surprise, my initial grumpy skepticism was brutally arrested when I visited the site," he confesses. "The site is clean, easy to navigate and digest, and declares a massive customer engagement. Massive engagement."

Another thumbs up comes from Stacy Scheets, blogger at A Slack Barshinger Blog. "I admire their decision to dabble in unfamiliar territory and open the communication pathways with their customers," she writes. However, she also wonders what will happen when users get upset because their ideas are not adopted.

"I am no expert in social media and online communities, but I would think it's a pretty risky move for Starbucks, or for any business new to social media, to put themselves in such a vulnerable position," observes Scheets. "This is a lot different than the old fashioned 'suggestion box,' which was much more privately controlled."

Finally, these musings from the anonymous Web Laureate, posted on A Venti for Your Thoughts:

Morning. Rolling out of bed.
Coffee in palm,
Yawning. Now up.
Interacting with those
Browsing, email, rss ... and,
Patrons of places I'd not been.
To share vote discuss.
But, interacting, See what changes are brewing.
Nonetheless, Free wifi; More smells; Lower prices for all --
Because the Internet,
This thing ...
Isn't it all just about
Making new friends?

Web 2.0 in the Enterprise

How the enterprise harnesses the power of Web 2.0 -- or whether it ever truly can -- is a theme addressed in The Enterprise Gets a Sunburn, posted by Eric Berto, Etelos' corporate communications specialist. Berto recently traveled to Miami to attend the Future of Web Apps conference.

"The one thing that I think was missing from the conference was the discussion of the enterprise. The future of work is the future of Web apps. Now, in my work, I use Twitter and Flickr, I want our blogs to get dugg and I use other consumer apps, but most people also need to accomplish work. I would have loved to have seen somebody discussing how a CRM can help you grow your business or how to monetize an application beyond advertising.

"The enterprise space has billions of dollars and millions of users up for grabs. Verticals are being ignored by developers who, instead, are hoping to get four million zombies at (US)$.02 per click instead of 10,000 users of an app at $40 per user per month. I think that the future of the Web is in the Enterprise as it's the most stable platform for continued growth."

Your Options Have Changed

Despite decades in use, IVR, or interactive voice response, can't seem to get it right, mourns Ahmed Bouzid, who heads the partnerships and strategic alliances program at Angel.com.

"'Please listen carefully as our options may have changed!' When your IVR says that," he writes in a post on the IVR Blog, "what callers will hear is, 'Please listen carefully as we don't really care how awful our IVR is ...' And that can't be be good!

"I would say 9 out of 10 of the IVRs I call these days have this phrase right there upfront," Bouzid continues, "proudly played as if to signal that you are dealing with a company so dynamic and so cutting edge that its menu options are constantly changing -- so, you'd better pay attention lest you get hurt.

"The sad thing," he notes, "is that almost 100 percent of the time the phrase is played, nothing had really changed in the IVR menu for months -- and in some cases, the phrase is inserted from the very beginning of the IVR deployment!"


*ECT News Network editor's note #1: The original publication of this article incorrectly stated, "Many bloggers, among them Becky Carroll, seem to feel this is merely a PR move for Starbucks." In fact, Carroll noted that other bloggers expressed that view, but she did not share it. We regret the error.
*ECT News Network editor's note #2: The original publication of this article incorrectly attributed Toby Ward's comments to Barry Graubart, author of a blog that's also entitled Content Matters. We regret the error.


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