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Starbucks #RaceTogether

What Your Brand Can Learn From the Starbucks #RaceTogether Campaign

Unless you were in the middle of a technology and Internet detox last month, you heard about Starbucks and USA TODAY’s #RaceTogether campaign. As the country grappled with the death of Michael Brown, the two companies saw an opportunity to use their locations and reach to start an honest and thoughtful conversation about diversity. While it was a well-intentioned campaign, #RaceTogether was viewed as anything but thatt in the public’s eye.

On March 16, Starbucks announced its baristas would write “#RaceTogether” on customers’ cups. The hope was that the hashtag would open and encourage a dialogue about racial diversity—a topic that is not always easy to discuss with even those closest to you.

The next day, customers took to social media criticizing Starbucks for assuming they wanted to talk with their baristas about such a topic. According to AdWeek, only 7% of online discussions were positive, and there were enough mentions to cause Starbuck’s SVP of Global Communications to delete his Twitter account.

The mockery continued offline as it became a hot topic of late night television, including being used as inspiration for a recent SNL skit.

On one hand, as a consumer of many Starbucks beverages and USA TODAY articles, I have to salute both companies and their leadership teams for trying to make a positive change in the world. On the other hand, as a social media professional, I have to encourage companies to use this campaign as a learning opportunity.

For as long as brands have existed so has brand loyalty. But in the age of social media, consumers are not just loyal, they feel connected. Over time, they develop relationships with brands that are representative of who they are and who they hope to be. For this reason, “cause marketing” campaigns like #RaceTogether, which are deep-rooted in social issues, can have one of the two results: a success or a flop.

Even if your next marketing campaign isn’t as big as #RaceTogether, here are six things to do when creating your campaign strategy:

  1. Research the current online conversations surrounding the subject.
  2. Research the current online conversations surrounding your brand.
  3. Research the current online conversations surrounding your target audience.
  4. Create test content and distribute it to a test group.
  5. Have an always-on monitoring strategy.
  6. Have an always-on moderation strategy that accounts for both positive & negative conversation.

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