Starbucks Coffee Company has been rated No. 1 in a study of the most socially engaged companies, which was released today by advertising research firm PhaseOne.

In addition to Starbucks, the study's most socially engaged brands across three distinct engagement metrics are Audi, McDonald's, Red Bull, and American Express.

The findings from the study were presented at the Advertising Research Foundation's Re:Think event in New York City on March 27, 2012.

Conducted between July 2011 and January 2012, PhaseOne's social media engagement study looked at 75 top brands across six vertical markets and analyzed the social media engagement of more than 20 top brands.

The primary goal of PhaseOne's study was to determine what drives social media engagement (measured by earned media) across the primary consumer touch points of paid media (the brands' TV ads) and owned media (the brands' own Web pages and Facebook page).

Idealized Self vs. Private Self in Driving Social Engagement

In looking for the commonalities between the most socially engaged brands, PhaseOne researchers found that social media users are drawn to brands that convey a social benefit. When the user affiliates with the brand, the user is sending a message to those in his or her social network about how he or she wants to be perceived. In this way, the brand reflects the user's idealized self–the "Me Statement."

This very public aspect of social media can be quite different from the private self: those aspects of one's self that, while true, are not for public broadcast. Marketing messages that tap into the private self may drive sales, but they won't drive social media engagement.

"In PhaseOne's study, none of the brands that tapped into users' private selves scored in the top category of social media engagement," says Lisa Allard, vice president of Special Projects for PhaseOne. "Rather, we found that users engage with a brand in social media based on how they want to be perceived."

"For example, users may 'like' the Starbucks Facebook page because of what they believe it says about them and how they want to be perceived, while in reality, they also have instant coffee in their kitchen cupboards," says Terry Villines, vice president of Analytics for PhaseOne.

Starbucks Takes on the Me Statement and Idealized Self

The study found that a focus on a "me statement" (the idealized self embodied by a brand) was the key factor in driving social media engagement among the most engaged brands. For example, Starbucks, which the study ranked as the most successful in social media engagement, has a brand that delivers its story with consistent messaging and strategy across all of its touch points, appealing to the "idealized self."

To achieve this successful social media engagement, Starbucks focused its webpage, Facebook page, and television advertisements on the individual and his or her individualized experience with the brand.

For example, Starbuck's Facebook page engages the visitor by speaking to his or her coffee preferences and personal stories. It continues this trend today with a webpage featuring interactive content that taps into visitors' unique tastes, including "What's Your Everylove story?" and "Do You prefer Starbucks Blonde Roast, Medium, or Dark?" In this way, Starbucks taps into visitors' desires for individualized experiences that appeal to their unique preferences.

According to the study, being consistent across all platforms–the brand's webpages, Facebook page and advertising–are keys to being successful at social media engagement. Starbucks has integrated its appeal to a personalized experience across all consumer touch points, including its television advertising.

A recent Starbucks ad starts with a coffee plant in a garden being grown for an individual person, "Sue." The ad then shows the life cycle of coffee beans from seedling to production, at every junction labeled for "Sue." In the end, Sue receives a cup of coffee with her name written on the cup.

From beginning to end of this commercial, Starbuck's reinforces the highly individualized experience their brand offers. In this way, Starbucks becomes the embodiment of their consumers' idealized selves, seeking experiences uniquely their own.


PhaseOne's social media engagement study looked at 75 top brands and analyzed the social media engagement of more than 20 top brands. The study analyzed social media engagement (measured by earned media) as driven by paid media (the brands' TV ads) and owned media (the brands' own Web pages and Facebook page).

The study utilized metrics, including Facebook Likes, Klout and Netbase. Klout measures online "stickiness," which translates to online influence. Netbase measures online sentiment. PhaseOne coded each television, webpage, and Facebook page for more than 250 variables to capture elements related to style and content, synergies across media, and brand or product ideas and messaging related to brand benefits.

The study analyzed brands across six vertical markets: Automotive, Dining, Food/Beverage, Retail, Services, and Technology.

Brands studied are not clients of PhaseOne, and analysis was based on publicly available data.

The study was conducted between July 2011 and January 2012.

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