Guns, Coffee and Social Media: Howard Schultz’s Deft Execution of His Open Letter

By | September 18, 2013


Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz issued an open letter to customers in states with “open carry” gun laws, and respectfully asked them to leave their guns at home.


The public response and focus of the coverage has been predictable. Some lauded the move as a bold gesture to families across the U.S., citing it further enhances the company’s efforts to establish their stores as a “second home” space focused on family comfort and security. Others took Schultz’s stance as a personal and national assault on civil liberties, and are beating the social media drum to spark a boycott of the brand.


The politics of it, I’ll leave for the media and the engaged public to dissect. The biggest takeaway here for me, was the brilliantly tactful way Schultz’s communications team used social media to deliver his open letter.


With more than 70 percent of Americans in favor of some form of gun control, an overzealous communications team might have seen that as a mandate to trumpet the open letter as the main social content for the day. Much the same way, Oreo came out in support of marriage equality with a dedicated Facebook cover image, Starbucks could have developed a specific ‘unity’ graphic to be featured on its Facebook page or Twitter background.  Or, it could have taken a page from Lululemon and prominently splashed the open letter as the marquee content of their website.


Fortunately, Starbucks navigated away from these potential communication landmines and decided to share the open letter with a curt Facebook post and tweet. Anything more would have enraged the pro-gun community, and make the brand’s social channels a messy battleground. That would have placed a burden on the community management team to deal with reading posts from angry fans on breaking constitutional liberties instead of engaging with the community on the joy of sipping Pumpkin Spice Lattes.


As you visit Starbucks’ website, Facebook and Twitter pages, take note. The brand is doing a great job of making sure its social channels remain a “second home”, an online space where the main focus is caffeinated concoctions and nothing else.


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