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Posted At: October 10, 2011 1:39 PM
by Sarah Shea

Consumer relations varies greatly from company to company. With the advent of social media, the means of these relationships has taken on innovative forms. Through the use of corporate blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, consumer feedback has become nearly instantaneous and two-way communication prevails.

One example of the new possibilities of consumer relations is My Starbucks Idea, an online platform for Starbucks customers to share their ideas. The website is a virtual suggestions box of sorts. Rather than use pen and paper to voice ideas and opinions, customers create online accounts to share feedback. After creating an account, users can offer commentary for any range of topics, from new drinks to social responsibility practices. So far, more than 25,000 ideas have been offered for drinks alone.

The “ideas” are categorized three ways: product ideas, experience ideas and involvement ideas. All users can read and comment upon the ideas of other users, adding favorites or giving speculations a thumbs up or thumbs down. Not only can consumers offer their own perspectives, but they also have the ability to network with others. The interactivity of the website gives it a unique approach to consumer relations.

“My Starbucks Idea is one of the best corporate blogs out there, and I think it owes a huge part of its success to [its] focus on user-generated content,” said Juliana Weiss-Roessler, a freelance writer.

Listen to the consumer

One important part of using corporate blogs like My Starbucks Idea is confirming that the company is listening to the consumer. For Starbucks, an “Ideas in Action” section shows just that. Here, the different ideas implemented are explained in detail by different Starbucks team representatives. The ideas cover a broad range of topics — from new Braille Starbucks cards to iTunes playlists. These “ideas in action” even link back to the consumers’ original ideas.

Starbucks has communicated these ideas through blog posts such as “100 of Your Ideas Launched with More to Come.” This post outlined the ideas in an enumerated list, making navigation of each individual idea quite simple. With the blog function of the site, users can see their voice coming through the company.

Ines Nadal, senior research executive of Synovate, said, “Listening to its customers helps Starbucks to understand where the problems are . . . More importantly, this ability to listen enhances brand image and helps the brand to connect and engage with consumers, ultimately improving business results.”

Give the consumer the power

Through My Starbucks Idea, Starbucks is taking consumer relations to a new level of interactivity. Rather than push its own ideas on customers, Starbucks is putting the power in the hands of the consumer. The idea platform allows them to share ideas and connect to other users and Starbucks representatives, all in one place. While traditional consumer relations, such as written surveys and phone calls, can be intrusive, social media provides a means more conducive to the lifestyle of the customer. Using platforms like these, customers are able to interact in their own time.

“Often it is difficult to get customers to provide feedback using traditional channels,” Nadal said. “Social media is a less disruptive channel and also more engaging, which can help to build up consumer relations.”

Engage the consumer

One key to making corporate blogs such as My Starbucks Idea work, Nadal said, is an interested consumer. “A successful [user-generated content] strategy needs customers who are truly passionate about the brand and are willing to engage and participate in creating online content,” she said.

Starbucks has not only engaged customers through My Starbucks Idea, but also other social media platforms. This type of relationship with its customer base has allowed for more connectivity.

“The majority of these conversations happen in real time while they are at the store consuming Starbucks products, bringing the brand closer to its customers and their experiences,” Nadal said.

Creative ideas like Starbucks’ are changing the world of consumer relations. With an ever-changing media base, companies must also find new ways of interacting with their publics. More often than not, this includes turning to interactivity and online media.

From playlists to eco-friendly cups, My Starbucks Idea is revolutionizing consumer relations.


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