How Starbucks Social Media Team Captures the Personality of a Beverage

From morning coffee to afternoon lattes, Starbucks customers post countless pictures of their handcrafted beverages on social media channels. The iconic Starbucks® cup often appears with an interesting background – from international skylines to beach sunset shots. But there’s something different about Starbucks® Frappuccino® blended beverage photos. They’re usually selfies featuring a person sipping their favorite Frappuccino through a green straw.

“It’s a reflection of the personal relationship people have with the beverage. A lot of photos with Starbucks cups say, ‘here I am, this is the view from where I sit.’ With Frappuccino, it’s more of a ‘here I am’ image and message,” said Ryan Turner, Starbucks director of Global Social Media.

Starbucks core social media team communicates and connects with the personalities of beverages and fans through over 30 accounts on 12 different social platforms. Frappuccino alone has more than 11 million followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and We Heart It. How does the team do it?

Their work is a constant cycle of listening to people who are drawn to popular Starbucks® beverages and then “holding the funhouse mirror up,” as Turner calls it, to reflect the community.

The Digital Native

Frappuccino, which recently celebrated its 20th birthday, is older than the social media tools its fans use every day. In 1995, Starbucks launched the first blended beverages – coffee and mocha. The now iconic green straws and dome lids were added in 1999. A few years later, in 2002, Starbucks introduced new Frappuccino flavors of vanilla bean, strawberries and crème and double chocolate chip.

“Frappuccino, especially the approachable flavors, became a young adult’s foray into coffee and the coffeehouse,” said Ashlee Langholz, Starbucks manager of social media strategy. “It’s a beverage they can enjoy while they connect with a friend or family member who is going to get coffee at Starbucks.”

Customers started their own Frappuccino fan page on Facebook in 2008 and were a million strong when Starbucks became involved with the community a year later. Its personality – defined by fans – is joyful and exuberant. Because a Frappuccino can be customized with more than 36,000 combinations, it’s also viewed as a statement of a customer’s personality.

“When you’re looking to carve your identity in this world you have your musical preferences, movie tastes and in some small way the type of Frappuccino beverage you like fits into the picture,” said Jeremy Bronson, a community manager on Starbucks social team.

Fans’ fascination with making Frappuccino a part of their lives doesn’t surprise Secelia Kirby, also a Starbucks community manager. “It’s common in our culture to obsess over a singular thing,” she said. “Whether that’s a boy band, a celebrity or a beverage.”

Love for the beverage shows up regularly in response to Starbucks social media posts. A recent post on the Frappuccino Facebook page announcing the Happy Hour promotion (underway now through May 10) received more than 120,000 “likes.” On Twitter, those proclaiming they adore Frappuccino so much they want to marry it often receive a virtual engagement ring in response.

An Internet Celebrity

While the Starbucks social media team unites the Frappuccino community with “we” and “us” language in their posts, they take a different approach with another fan favorite beverage – Pumpkin Spice Latte.

PSL, Starbucks most popular seasonal beverage of all time, is about nine years younger than Frappuccino. Early in 2003, a small group gathered in the “Liquid Lab,” a secure research and development space on the 7th floor of Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. The lab was a cross between a chef’s kitchen and a scientist’s playground with industrial refrigerators, espresso equipment, and an eclectic mix of potential ingredients and flavors.

Peter Dukes, director of espresso Americas for Starbucks, was the product manager who led the development of Pumpkin Spice Latte.

“Nobody knew back then what it would grow to be,” Dukes said. "It’s taken on a life of its own.”

PSL also has strong social media following of its own, after bursting on the social scene last fall with dedicated Twitter and Tumblr pages.

The personality of PSL is distinctly different from Frappuccino, and messges about the fall beverage are written from a first-person perspective. For example, an October post on Twitter noted, “My lederhosen are too tight! This is the würst.” Yes, PSL wears clothing, and incidentally has a (pumpkin) cat named Ginger.

The Starbucks social team established traits to support PSL’s spirited persona and decided to treat it as a celebrity after noticing people who follow PSL on social media also follow more celebrities than the average user.

“It’s like fleshing out a character for a novel or a movie,” Bronson said. “There are different aspects of its personality that might not even be evident in any posts. The backstory colors our interactions when we respond to comments from fans.”

“These narratives write themselves if you really pay attention to how people are interacting with the beverages as part of their lives,” added Turner. “That’s the simple secret of what we do with all our social channels. We listen.”

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5 things to know about first-ever Starbucks Promises Day