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Joe, I think you're spot on. Coffeehouses were a social platform in their day, and the idea that Starbucks customers can sit in a physical location and focus on their virtual connections is almost inane, if you think about it too hard. No amount of buzzwords or catchphrases from Schultz can overcome this basic disconnect in his strategy.

It would be intriguing if he had ideas about using tech tools to prompt more in-store physical social interaction...perhaps some virtual identifier that let you assess who was in the place and what they wanted to talk about? Maybe outbound notices that a conversation about something topical (politics, whatever) was brewing at the nearby Starbucks and consumers might want to attend (you could opt-in to topics in which you're interested).

I'm coming out with a book next month entitled Histories of Social Media, in which I'll explore the mechanisms of social discourse throughout history, sans tech platforms, and try to uncover some truths about how best to architect them. Pls check out my site (little on it yet) and I'd be happy to share a copy of the book when it's available next month:


Joe McCarthy

Jonathan: thanks for chiming in; it's helpful to know that others are similarly concerned about [prospects for] greater disconnection and disengagement through the Starbucks Digital Network. Your use of "disconnect" in this context reminds me of some of the issues Doug Rushkoff raised in his book, Life, Inc., with respect to the ways that corporations insert themselves into our lives and [thereby] disconnect us from one another. Although I have been holding out hope that Starbucks would be different, I have to say I find this latest announcement disillusioning.

I just perused the overview and table of contents for your forthcoming book, Histories of Social Media. I'm particularly intrigued by your choice of using the plural "histories" rather than "history".

I enjoy reading - and blogging about - great books on social media (e.g., my recent book review of Empowered, by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler), and would enjoy reading yours as well!

Dan Oestreich

Joe, I love the ironies of which you speak. The "disconnect" is from my standpoint a fine example of not noticing and dealing with a "discrepancy" from brand. Starbucks would be different from other large organizations if it learned from the discrepancies that are called out, particularly in this case the ones that are identified on the very social media that it touts as promoting or owning. That acknowledgement could be a first step in closing the gap, and with follow-through, might build credibiilty.

That would be "living the brand" rather than simply "claiming the brand" and then missing the point.

Joe McCarthy

Dan: thanks for raising the issue of claiming vs. living the brand, and for adding another "d" word - "discrepancy" - to the discussion.

Your observation is particularly interesting given my recent reading (and review) of the book, Empowered, which is about "unleashing" employees to use social media for interacting with customers. The authors highlight BestBuy and its use of @TwelpForce, a collection of 2500 retail staff employees empowered to tweet answers to customer questions.

Although @Starbucks is very active on Twitter, I believe it is the work of one person (Brad Nelson), and while lots of people post to Starbucks' Facebook wall, I rarely see interactions or engagement by other Starbucks employees on other social media channels (and I've never seen an official response by anyone from Starbucks to a blog post). So perhaps "protecting the brand" would be another dimension to consider.

In any case, after watching the interview with Howard Schultz, I'm no longer sure what the Starbucks brand means. His earlier emphasis on third places had led me to believe it was, in part, about conversation and community at Starbucks. Perhaps the Starbucks Digital Network represents a pivot point for the brand.

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