Giveaways pay on Facebook. Starbucks has surged past Coca-Cola to become the most popular corporate brand on the social network, powered by its recent free pastry promotion.
As of Thursday, Starbucks' Facebook page boasted 3.7 million fans compared to Coke's 3.5 million -- with their sites ranking 8th and 9th, respectively, among all pages, according to data compiled by Inside Facebook. (Fan pages for celebrities and prominent figures like Michael Jackson and Barack Obama generally top the list.)
A well-designed page, fun promotions and effective use of Engagement Ads on the Facebook home page have all helped Starbucks drive a large following on the social network, according to the Facebook-tracking blog. Promotions have played an especially big part lately.
Starbucks added 200,000 fans this week alone -- pushing it past Coke -- with its Free Pastry Day on July 21 allowing fans to print out coupons for complimentary pastries with any beverage purchase.
It's not the first giveaway campaign the coffee chain has run on Facebook. Earlier this month, it promoted the launch of branded ice cream by offering coupons for free pints through its Facebook application. Among other social media initiatives, Starbucks in May asked people to take photos of new outdoor advertising in several cities and post them on Twitter. And it used a YouTube video to promote its Election Day offer of free java to anyone who voted.
A report released earlier this week by social media platform Wetpaint and digital consulting firm Altimeter Group rated Starbucks the highest among the top 100 brands for its efforts in social media based on engagement across 10 categories including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and wikis.
"Free coupons can be a very viral way to do promotions on social networks, as long as it's a compelling offer," noted Justin Smith, editor of Inside Facebook. He pointed out that other companies such as Papa John's and Ben & Jerry's have also had success at making coupons available via Facebook.
What about erstwhile brand king Coke? The beverage giant's Facebook page, famously, wasn't created by the company but by a pair of Coke enthusiasts in Los Angeles. A case study of a brand "letting go." (Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski have since been hired to co-manage the page with Coke's marketing team.)
The contrasting approaches of Starbucks and Coke to brand-building, however, suggest there's more than one way to bring consumers to a Facebook fan page. Then again, giving stuff away for free tends to draw a crowd anywhere.