A tweet can be used to share links, media, and status updates. But could it soon be used to share Starbucks coffee?
That's the promise of a new partnership launched today, Monday, by Twitter and Starbucks, which enables gift certificates to be exchanged via tweets. Called the tweet-a-coffee program, the service allows for spur-of-the-moment acts of generosity between friends, with little to no friction: Just tweet at another Twitter user in order to give a $5 digital eGift hassle-free. It's certainly a novel marketing tool. But the larger significance here is how companies like Starbucks are gradually beginning to see Twitter as a potential ecommerce platform.
To use the service, you first have to sync your Starbucks account with your Twitter account. From there, "you simply tweet '@tweetacoffee to' and then [write] the handle of whoever the recipient is," says Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman. "Automatically, they'll get an @ reply back on Twitter that says that an eGift was received." At start, the digital eGifts will be in $5 denominations, redeemable by printing out the eGift or loading it to your own Starbucks digital card.
The coffee shop chain worked with Twitter to make the experience as seamless as possible, while ridding any potential hiccups. For example, the system is smart enough to know that RTs and @ replies to an eGift tweet don't necessarily mean a user is interested in giving another e-gift. To start, the program is only designed for @-ing messages to other users, rather than making them public for all your followers to see. A tweet has to specifically follow the program's rules to work; thus, a personal message to a friend can only be included after tweeting "@tweetacoffee." For example: "@tweetacoffee to @RodStewart . . . because I think ya sexy, here's a Starbucks eGift."
The key here is spontaneity—lowing the barrier of entry so much that it's difficult not to try at least once. "You could literally walk up to someone you just met—you don't have to have their email address or to friend them on Facebook," says Brotman, who imagines it will foster "in-the-moment" instances of users "thanking someone or acknowledging an act of kindness" with a Starbucks gift certificate.
For Starbucks, it'll give the brand a new digital and social avenue to interact with consumers. It's also likely to drive business to its stores and perhaps entice more users to use Starbucks's digital tools. To support the launch, the company is giving the first 100,000 Visa customers who use the eGift tweet service a $5 eGift card themselves.
It's not the first time a digitally savvy brand has taken advantage of Twitter for such a novel use. Increasingly, businesses are starting to explore the potential of Twitter as an ecommerce platform. Earlier this year, for example, American Express initiated a program that allowed its cardholders to make purchases via hashtag.
What's the potential of these types of programs for Twitter, especially as it gears up for its IPO?
Brotman is bullish.
"We view it as the first step toward many things we can do with Twitter that are commerce related," he says. "It just feels more conversational [than traditional ecommerce]; it feels more authentic; and it feels more in the flow of how we're actually using digital."