Three Ways Caribou Coffee Went From Fail to Win in Social

Categories Blog, Business and Leadership, Case Studies, Networking
coffee scoop

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE coffee. I’m a local coffee guy, but If there’s one coffee chain that I have a soft spot for, it’s Caribou. 16 years ago, I was freezing in downtown Minneapolis and found their shop by sheer luck. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Unfortunately, Caribou hasn’t always been the best at developing and nurturing relationships with their fans on social media. In fact, they had a huge fail right when it mattered most.

Store Closings Lead to Customer Heartache

After being acquired by investment firm JAB in December, 2012, they restructured, closed 80 stores the next spring and converted 88 more to Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

So what, this is business, right?

Both external and internal communication are important when change happens. For a while it was impossible to even get a list of which stores were closing, and the only announcement was a detail-free press release on the Caribou site.

Frustration boiled over on social media almost immediately. While Caribou continued to post snapshots of ice cold beverages and crispy bagels, fans posted angry, sarcastic and exasperated comments.

Let Them Eat Static

Response from Caribou?


…Your devoted fans are angry and you say… nothing?

That’s right. They responded by ignoring all complaints.

Imagine how enraged you’d be when your favorite coffee place closes, ignores you when you complain and continues to post happy images of that chocolate mint cooler you can’t have. embarrassing.

Here’s how I chronicled Caribou’s social fail at the time:


Here we are three years later and a lot has changed. In fact, Caribou has gone from terrible to an example of best practices in social.

Three Things Caribou Coffee Did to Shift Their Social Media Marketing

1. Focus on Interaction

While the old Caribou shied away from talking to their devoted fans, their attitude has changed. In fact, the greatest change came when Caribou shifted away from scheduling automated blasts and running away (or hanging out in a giant coffee cup?).

Once they decided their Brave Sir Robin impersonation didn’t work, Caribou started to talk to their customers. Hey, it is called social media. And interact they have, answering questions and offering comments on their fans’ posts.

2. Emphasize Customer Service

Instead of ignoring complaints, Caribou has embraced the role of social media as a way to immediately address issues. In a total turnaround, their Twitter feed is now mainly used to respond and fix customer concerns.

Caribou Coffee Social Media Feed

Beyond looking for direct replies and hashtags, they also seek out any mention of their name. Very impressive, and a step beyond what Starbucks and Dunkin’ look to be doing.

3. Realize that Social is the New Public Relations

Caribou’s social feeds weren’t a complete failure in the past. They had beautiful product art and served as a visual extension to the brand. Fortunately, they have kept what was good and even expanded on it. For example, Minneapolis PR firm Exponent worked with Caribou on innovative campaigns that promoted their brand and connected to worthy causes, including their unique connection with breast cancer awareness and research.

It’s Not All Sunshine and Roses. Here’s What Caribou Could Do Better:

The downside of being a decent-sized corporation is that there’s usually something going on somewhere in the company that offends someone. Caribou isn’t immune to this, and ran into a buzzsaw this year when they enforced their trademark against a small Michigan cafe. Yeah, this looks a lot like the big bully picking on the little guy.

Caribou Coffee Negative Facebook Comment

Acting to protect your brand trademarks is required in business to have the trademark at all, which is something that most companies do a terrible job of communicating in these circumstances. And Caribou understood the negative impact to some extent, even contributing to the GoFundMe page to help pay for the cafe’s rebranding. They should take this further and engage on social about the issue, but so far they have, once again, ignored all negative comments.

Congrats, Caribou

In all, Caribou Coffee has done a great job of turning their social media efforts around, interacting to fix complaints and creating a stronger connection with their devoted fans. They’re a great example of a company that realized what was lacking and fixed it.

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