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Starbucks’ Tweetable Coffee Program is a Lesson in Real-Time Marketing

tweetable coffee

Social media coffee addicts rejoice! You can now really experience coffee through Twitter!

Last week, Starbucks announced a new program that allows you and me to give a Starbucks coffee as a gift. Not a big deal you say? Well, consider this: you can do it via a tweet. Yup, Starbuck’s new tweet-a-coffee program lets U.S. customers sync their Starbucks accounts to their Twitter accounts so that by simply tweeting @tweetacoffee and the Twitter handle of a gift recipient, the recipient instantly receives a $5 digital eGift.

Recipients can redeem their tweetable gifts  at participating U.S. Starbucks stores by printing out the e-gift, presenting it directly on a mobile device or loading it to their Starbucks mobile app. This is an extension of an already successful digital gift program; Starbucks launched a eGift test on its website in 2011, which was later followed up with digital offers on Facebook and through its iPhone mobile app.

Extending the digital giving concept to Twitter is further proof that consumers are more integrated with social media and social networking than ever before. Will we be buying cars on Twitter anytime soon? Probably not, but cars are being bought, sold, and shipped purely from online transactions on the manufacturers’ websites as well as on eBay and other online exchanges. It wasn’t THAT long ago that the thought of buying a car online was farfetched.

Real-Time Transactions

What does this signal for businesses, and commerce in particular? Simply put, everything is moving to real-time.  The effect of real-time interactions between brands and consumers and, more importantly, between consumers and other consumers, is a driving force in consumer decision-making.

Imagine this scenario: You’re en route to drop off your kids at school tomorrow morning and your smartphone beeps with a tweet from Sally gifting you a Starbucks coffee. What are the chances that you’ll enter a Starbucks drive-thru on your way back? Is a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts on your way back home your regular routine? What are the chances that Sally’s eGift will encourage you to stop by a Starbucks instead?

The integration of mobile technologies and social media provides brands a virtual goldmine of possibilities to sway purchase decisions among their existing and prospective consumers.

Real-Time Influence

Now imagine the possibilities when a brand tracks these eGifts and the resulting consumer behavior. Was the eGift used? If so, was it redeemed within a day or a week? Were any other products purchased during that same visit? Is the recipient of the eGift an existing Starbucks loyalty card holder or a new customer? What is the relationship between Sally and the recipient of the eGift?

As outlined in Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers, a book I co-authored with Danny Brown, the nature of these dyadic relationships is fertile ground for identifying true influencers among a brand’s community.

Dyads are a group of two; a dyadic relationship is the dynamic generated between two individuals interacting with each other. This is the nucleus of social conversations.

Within a large online community, you may have many people engaged in a group conversation, yet the net result of that mass-engagement is vastly different than that from the exchanges between two people with a defined relationship at a particular moment in time.

Group conversations serve to highlight issues, publicly debate commonly held beliefs, or make the larger community aware of trending topics. The net result is almost always “awareness.”

When two people within a defined relationship (such as co-workers, family members, etc.) speak to each other about a specific product (eg. smart phone, groceries, autos, etc.) and at a specific time in the consumer buying cycle (awareness, consideration, decision), the result is often behavioral change.

Real-time social media exchanges that are easily tracked to purchase behaviors is a God-send to those practicing influence marketing.

Real-Time Research

When consumers are not receiving push marketing or customer acquisition campaigns on their mobile devices, such as the Starbuck’s eGifting program, they’re turning to those devices for social proof of an impending purchase decision or for guidance on real-time decisions, such as which movie to see, which mountain bike to buy, etc.

SteelHouse, a behavioral commerce company, published a study that demonstrates consumers’ proclivity to share online what they purchase, want to purchase or recommend purchasing.  In fact, according to the study, at least 59% of Pinterest users have purchased an item they saw on the social network. Another astounding statistic shared is that 55 percent of consumers share their purchases on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The base of consumers surveyed for this study is relatively small, and so the stats may be a bit exaggerated when compared to true national averages, but the trend is certainly moving in this direction. Consumers are sharing more of their purchases on social networks and turning to social networks – and to the Internet in general – more often before making those purchase decisions. Now that those networks are more easily accessed on smartphones, right at the point of purchase, the speed of sharing and decision-making has increased immeasurably.

An infographic, produced by SteelHouse, highlighting the survey results can be found below.

Real-Time Shopper

Looking Forward

Twitter is signaling the future of commerce for marketing, sales, and consumer research. Its recent announcement that it’s exploring Real-Time Bidding (RTB) is further proof of the quickening of real-time consumer exchanges at point of purchase. RTB is a computerized, algorithm-driven trading program that allows for the quick buying of ad impressions in mobile apps and websites. The desktop version of this programmatic ad buying is already very popular among media buyers but when pushed to mobile devices and mobile experiences, the effect will be momentous.

RTB for mobile advertising and other in-line, contextually driven mobile experiential advertising has the power to change consumer behavior after a purchase intent has been established through traditional online research. Short of placing a brand sales representative at every cash register across North America, this is the last frontier for lead acquisition and customer conversion strategies.

Sensei Debates

1. Are we overstating the power of eGifting on commerce?

2. Does this program signal a shift in how businesses must think about consumer purchase behaviors?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego


Join the Conversation

profkrg 5pts

This is really cool. I'm excited about what it means for the future of commerce. I'd be even more excited if the tweet resulted in Starbucks on my nightstand each morning.

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samfiorella moderator 5pts

@profkrg You and me both!! I'd be happy if the barista was just waiting at my door when I left in the morning holding out my Grande Pike Place. 

chieflemonhead 5pts

Great article, Sam! Thanks so much for the post...

Love the notion of the dyadic relationship. It truly makes the marketer think about the value of mass marketing, and then the absolute need to start finding ways to go from mass communications to a 1:1 relationship via real influencers. What role does a brand play in that relationship and how, without being tacky, can it truly influence its selection and purchase.

Lots to chew on here... maybe even a coffee in it for you!



samfiorella moderator 5pts

@chieflemonhead  Funny enough, Influence Marketing, with it's talk about volumes of people, is really about one-to-one marketing. Again.  Purchase patterns can certainly be swayed by the  "wisdom of crowds" but to change someone's behavior or buying patterns often requires a person within one of those dyadic relationships since the connection and relevancy between the two is typically stronger. 


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