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Starbucks aims to recreate coffee klatch online

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By The Seattle Times
Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In the social-media stone age, about 2005, customers who yearned to interact with Starbucks could talk to a barista or read quotes on its coffee cups.

“Love wins,” read quote No. 257, from television and radio host Tavis Smiley.

“Evolution is beautiful,” said No. 35, creating a bit of a stink in anti-evolution circles.

Now fans interact with the world's largest coffee-shop chain without even visiting a cafe. They just log on to their favorite social-media site, and there's Starbucks or Frappuccino or Starbucks Indonesia chatting away.

One of the most successful brands using social media, Starbucks wins more than a popularity contest with its vast numbers of online fans. The sites have become an important way to advertise daily and, occasionally, drive huge numbers of customers into stores.

The fifth-largest brand on Facebook, with 34 million fans, Starbucks trails only Coca-Cola, Disney, Red Bull and Converse, according to

Starbucks executives figure that through Facebook fans and their friends alone, they have access to nearly 1 billion people — one-seventh of the world's population.

On Twitter, its 3.6 million followers rank it fourth, behind Samsung Mobile, iTunes Music and NASA.

And that's just for the main Starbucks name. The chain has dozens more pages and handles for Frappuccino, Seattle's Best Coffee, Tazo Tea, other brands and foreign markets.

There are even “Starbucks Partners” pages for the chain's employees, more than half of whom in the United States are 25 years old or younger. A recent Starbucks Partners photo on Instagram and Facebook touted a California store where three workers made 40 drinks in 10 minutes — for a nearby zombie movie shoot, naturally.

Although having followers is important, the real test is interaction and sales, and Starbucks has been winning there as well.

“Starbucks was holding Facebook promotions before most restaurants even figured out this was a space they needed to be in,” said Alicia Kelso, senior editor at Networld Media Group in Louisville, parent company of and other online trade publications that track the restaurant business.

Starbucks' first big social-media promotion occurred in 2009, about a year after it launched on Facebook and Twitter. It offered a free pastry with drink purchase before 10:30 a.m.

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