Leadership

Friday Buzz: Starbucks' #RaceTogether, Revisited

By / Jul 10, 2015 (Handout photo)

Why a controversial Starbucks campaign failed—and what it says about corporate social initiatives. Also: The most transparent company on the internet might be Buffer.

Earlier this year, Starbucks learned the hard way that starting a discussion about race is a lot harder than it sounds.

The company’s “Race Together” initiative, which encouraged Starbucks baristas to put a hashtag on drinks and start a conversation, got some pretty quick blowback. But now that a few months have passed, it’s a good time to look at what went wrong and what can be learned from the notable misstep.

In a long-form piece for the magazine, Fast Company‘s Austin Carr uncovers a socially conscious chairman and chief executive who hopes to use his company’s massive footprint for good. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz has focused heavily on social issues in the past, most notably by launching healthcare for his part-time employees, jumping on the fair-trade coffee trend, and hiring military vets to work at the company’s stores.

But as Carr notes, there was a strong business case for most of those initiatives. “Race Together,” however, was launched without any market research, something unusual for a company known for its strong marketing. But the chief executive defends the idea and supports the intent of “Race Together,” even if putting a hashtag on cups wasn’t the right way to do it.

“The irony is, we did create a national conversation—not how we intended, but you learn from mistakes,” Schultz told Carr.

Carr adds that a better example of a corporate social initiative came soon after—when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, in the wake of a controversial religious-freedom law, threatened to take his business away from Indiana.

Perhaps the lesson is to speak with your dollars rather than your hashtags.

You Can See Through Them

Could you be as transparent as Buffer is? The social-sharing startup is one of the most popular tools online, but there’s more to Buffer than there might seem. For one thing, Buffer’s completely open approach to sharing data might inspire your own organization.

The company breaks down its employee salaries, its revenue numbers, its approach to equity, and even the underlying code that runs its product. Check out their “Transparency Dashboard” and see whether it’s something you could get behind.

Other Links of Note

Good news for your inbox: Google is getting better at parsing spam in Gmail. Learn more about how the company is improving its anti-spam algorithms.

If you’re trying to drive in new members, a great landing page is essential. SocialFish breaks down what that entails.

Trying to give your volunteer programs a spark? This piece from VolunteerMatch’s Engaging Volunteers blog could be a good starting point.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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