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LSA18: The Starbucks Snafu & the Art of Local Conversation Management

One of the hallmarks of the post-2016 election marketing environment is the polarization and politicization of everything. Just the latest example of this is the recent mishap involving the arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia who were allegedly “trespassing.”

The local store manager called the police on the men, who were waiting for a friend to join them, the arrests were captured on video, protests followed and . . . voilà a national brand crisis for Starbucks. This required Starbucks to immediately do damage control; the CEO had to quickly condemn the local action, fire the store manager and meet with the arrested men. But considerable damage, at least in the short term, has been done to the Starbucks brand and its image.

This scenario reflects the vulnerability of brands to local snafus at the hands of random employees and their unpredictable behavior. The immediacy and “virality” of social media magnify everything and turn what might be an unfortunate local incident into a national crisis for Starbucks. But it’s hardly alone; there have been scores of these types of snafus this year for national brands.

On social media, data show overwhelmingly that“local conversations” are much more effective than corporate level communications. That requires some local autonomy and decentralization. But as the Starbucks example suggests, there’s risk in allowing control over communications at the local store or franchisee level. In addition, there are logistical challenges in doing so and maintaining consistency for the brand.

Two sessions at LSA18 tackle these topics head on. On Wednesday May 2, crisis communications expert Brooke Gabbert will discuss planning in this environment for inevitable brand crises and how to minimize fallout. Then Monica Ho of Soci will discuss managing local conversations at scale. That session will also feature a discussion with multi-billion dollar property management company Laramar Group.

LSA18 sessions

These are just two of many fascinating presentations and discussions at LSA18 — the networking event for the local ecosystem.

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