The roaring success of Starbucks’ crowdsourcing platform

Jeff Howe first mentioned the term ‘crowdsourcing’ in an article published in Wired Magazine in 2006. In business, this branding concept means getting services, ideas, funds or any other contents from a large number of people. As the old saying goes, “two heads are better than one”. So imagine thousands of people sharing ideas or skills for a company.

Crowdsourcing can be really beneficial for a firm because not only it gives a better understanding of customers wants, but it also reduces R&D costs. Moreover, labour costs are non-existent as usually participants are just looking for personal recognition.

In this post, we will focus on a specific type of crowdsourcing: ‘open innovation’.


Starbucks is one of the most popular consumer brand on the social Web. The company is actively present in Social Medias; indeed, many of the firm’s campaigns were initiated through social platforms like Facebook and Twitter or via Starbuck’s website.

In 2008, the company expand even more its online presence, by launching its crowdsourcing platform: ‘My Starbucks Idea’. In this hub, customers can share their ideas regarding almost everything that is linked to the brand: from new products to improvement of the ‘Starbucks experience’. Visitors can view all the ideas published, while subscribers can submit, vote or comment posts. Then, a team of ‘Idea Partners’ –composed of over 40 Starbucks employees expert in specific areas- review ideas and present the most popular ones to key decision-makers of the firm. An online section named ‘Ideas in action’ lists the ideas that are in process and that will be soon launched in some stores. Starbucks give credit for the authors of implemented ideas but no financial reward are given. Community members’ main motivation when submitting ideas is to help improving the brand, not to get money.


Here are some successes from My Starbucks Idea:

  • Braille Starbucks menus and gift cards ” for visually impaired persons
  • Discount shipping to military bases
  • Splash sticks ” minimize coffee splashes
  • Starbucks energy drinks
  • Stores’ donations of unsold baked goods, packaged food items, and coffee to local organizations

Starbucks goes further with its crowdsourcing business by having a twitter account ‘ My Starbucks Idea’.

Capture d’écran 2014-03-11 à 08.15.41.png

If successfully led and executed, crowdsourcing can be a brilliant tool to add value to the brand either by boosting innovation or by increasing brand awareness for few costs.

But in crowdsourcing, participants are paid a little or not at all whereas they provide major contributions to companies… Isn’t it unfair for them and unethical from the company?


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11 Responses to The roaring success of Starbucks’ crowdsourcing platform

  1. florachgn says:

    Hi Maud ! I found your article very interesting ! Its true that nowadays companies need to find new ways to innovate , and i like crowdsourcing because it permits to really involve the consumer, and then this consumer can feel that Starbucks cares about his ideas, and it can improve brand loyalty.

  2. Good morning Maud !
    A lot of brands do this today. They constantly ask to the customers their ideas to improve the brand. And I agree with Flora, that is a great idea because the customers feel they are part of the company and so the company is close to them. They install a kind of proximity with the costumers and their brand image are really good.

  3. mmirck says:

    Hi! I agree with the two comments above, that the idea of Starbucks is a great one, it really works for them! When people can respond and being actively involved in a company they really like, and their ideas are really used, it makes them kind of becoming part of a community. The Starbucks community. And I think a lot of the loyal customers of Starbucks are younger people, who are also active on the internet, it is a perfect combination. This way its not only fun for the customers, but also for Starbucks, because they get really useful feedback from loyal customers about possible improvements. Really good example!

  4. emmanuelleh says:

    Hey maud,

    I really appreciated your post. This is a very interesting theory, your drawing helps the understanding of your subject. I think that crowdsourcing is a very good way to involve customers in the production process, because if they participate and see the result of what they did they will be proud and buy the the brand wins anyway. and good example.

  5. A very very interesting subject! I think some comapnies underestimate the effect of crowdsourcing, while they could really benefit from it. As for the ethical part: I think if people provide the ideas willingly and simply because they want to help the brand they love, there’s nothing unethical about that. Meanwhile, I belive copmanies that use crowdsourcing could really save time searching for employees and source from the people that provide the best working ideas.

    • maudkh says:

      Thanks for your comment and your interest for my post Anastasia! You raised a really good point: crowdsourcing could be a good way for company to detect potentiel new employees. In the future, crowdsourcing may become a valuable new tool for external recruiting.

  6. cayuelajimenezalexandre says:


    I will not repeat the four previous comments already mentioned by my comrades where we are all agree that the crowdsourcing is a very good way to involve people in company process. Indeed, they will feel connected to the brand what is relevant of the web 2.0 where the interaction is the key of company success in the social media. Thus could bring them to be more loyal to the brand in question. Here, in our example Starbuck because their care about (potential) customers expectations and are interested of them simply. In this process, Starbuck is enhanced their brand knowledge which could have strong impact in their sales.

    Regarding to the main motivation of the Community Members when they submit ideas, I’m not totally agree, one of the reason could be that they want to improve the brand but definitely they will also do it because they want to compete against others persons and see if their ideas will be appreciate by the brand and the company could be interested about him / her, kind of self-interest and they will also do it for the money who will not take a couple of minutes of his time if the winner can win 1000€? Maybe if they don’t give incentives, some just will give up and will only spend few minutes seeing the others ideas because they don’t get anything back so they will not take time to do it themselves.

    Finally to answers to your question, it’s a big deal most of the companies are giving some for example Nokia which are using this concept and will share revenues from crowd sourced ideas with ideas project participants and others brands are also doing it. ( ) In my point of view, the companies which are using this concept should give some incentives to the people who are taking their time in order to improve brands products but not necessary monetary could be also like a VIP pass one year of some products of the brands for example.

    To gain more knowledge of the subject, I can advise you to go there, they have a good vision and good examples of companies’ crowdsourcing.

    • maudkh says:

      Thank you Alex for your comment. Obviously the first motivation of participant is helping the brand and contributing in its improvement. And it is also a good point you made by saying that participants can be rewarded through material prizes and not only financially. About Nokia’s example, I did not know about it so thanks for the info and for the links 🙂

  7. chgenin says:

    I was a little bit aware of this kind of operation but thanks to you, I really get the point. Starbuck made a very god point here. They have understand that the best way to get customers awareness is to make them feel that they are actually contributing to the brand. It is such a great idea because cutomers are feeling closed to the brand and they can keep speaking about the brand in other way than just consume products.
    Really interesting post and a very good example of brand innovation.

  8. rikupetseppala says:

    I haven’t heard about the term ”crowdsourcing” before and thank you for the good article about it.
    I noticed that the main idea of crowdsourcing can be linked very well to the main point social media which is two way communication. I don’t think that crowdsurfing is something that can be done by every company but for a big and well known company such as Starbucks it works well. As from the blog it was possible to notice Starbucks has gotten a lot of responces from the crowd.
    Using crowdsourcing also communicates that the company is interested about their customers and wants to execute their ideas. For a company whose brand is connected to the customer friendlines crowdsourcing is a good tool to use.

  9. hannakoivukoski says:

    Companies are using a lot of “free ideas” to do money with them. For example at our school, we have done dozens of them. I don’t think that’s ethical behavior and good for company’s image.. It’s interesting to do these real assignments, but it just doesn’t feel nice, that we students are making all the work without paid anything, and they get the profit & credit. Our ideas are used unscrupulously used as their own.

    PS: I would like Starbucks energy drink!

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