The latest story to make the rounds of the blogosphere is the fact that Starbucks is opening its own social media site, My Starbucks Ideas. The concept is that Starbucks is opening a social community similar to Dell’s Ideastorm wherein the company is soliciting ideas from its customers for improvements to the company. Several major bloggers like Mack Collier, Jeremiah Owyang and John Moore have weighed in on the subject. Though each of the authors applauds the venture into social media, the question that seems to come out of this is whether Starbucks is ready and willing to subject itself to criticism and feedback.
Starbucks is in a state flux right now, trying to reinvent their brand in the face of competition from companies like McDonalds and Duncan Donuts. This venture is the latest attempt to recreate their company, going from the current image of a corporate juggernaut with a store on every corner to a company which is involved in its community and committed to improvement.
But are they willing to accept what could come from the new site? Although they may pay lip service to the idea that they really want to change to conform to their customer base, do they really want to have their services and operations criticized by that same customer base? The practical reality is that there is a large segment of the population that hates Starbucks on prinicple. In taking this initative, Starbucks is opening itself to both productive and unproductive criticism.
That’s where the challenge is, not only for Starbucks, but for any business that opens itself to public scrutiny, especially online scrutiny. You need to differentiate between the valid criticism of potential consumers who want to improve the product and the people who simply wish to use the public forum of the internet to attack the product. There is a definite tendency for successful people or companies who expose themselves to public scrutiny to dismiss all criticism, valid or otherwise, as just the internet being the internet. The test for these companies is to find and act upon the constructive ideas of the audience.