SEATTLE: The key for advertisers using social media is to "go where consumers are and to provide a valuable and meaningful brand experience," according to Alexandra Wheeler, digital strategy director for Starbucks, the coffee house chain.

A recent report from the Altimeter Group stated that Starbucks and Dell were among the companies which were currently making the best use of the growing range of social media options.

Last month, the coffee giant saw its brand page on Facebook leapfrog that of Coca-Cola, the beverage maker, to become the most popular such tool on the social network, with a total of 3.6 million "fans".

Wheeler argued that when "we entered Facebook, there was certainly a community rallied around our brand that was very small," and its subsequent growth in size is a testament to the fact "our brand is just that relevant and part of people's lives."

Starbucks also has nearly 86,000 "followers" on Twitter, the microblogging service, and a team of six people are responsible for driving its operations on these sorts of sites.

One major contributor to its success, Wheeler said, is balancing "relevant and meaningful content, experience and offers to those communities so that their connection with the brand is really adding value."

"A brand can promote the heck out of themselves on Facebook and still not build a following if they don't have anything behind that and only nurture and care about it as marketing but not as relationships," she continued.

While the "buzz" on Twitter is often "customer service or Q&A oriented", on Facebook it "can span from people talking about Starbucks rituals or the values and the things the brand stands for," Wheeler added.

Overall, these services can help build the sort of "emotional connections and human connections" that "brands love".

Another important goal is the "translation and understanding [of] whether these communications add value to the bottom line and the business and we believe they do."

The Seattle firm's recent activities have included posting details on Facebook and Twitter regarding a visit by Howard Schultz, its ceo, to Rwanda, where he met with coffee producers, and attempted to raise awareness about issues related to AIDS.

Previously, it has used Facebook to promote a joint initiative with Product (Red) tied to World AIDS Day, inviting people to an "event" in its stores where the company donated a percentage of the cost of each product bought to this cause.

The social media campaign supporting this initiative received the "most viral impressions ever", resulting in a "million people RSVP for the event – either 'yes' or 'maybe'," Wheeler said.

For its Free Pastry Day – where Starbucks gave away a pastry with every drink purchased – the company was "on the order of nearly 600,000" people who expressed an interest in the promotion. 

Portals like Twitter were thus integral to "fueling redemption in our stores and seeing new faces in our stores who go to try and taste our great food on that single day," Wheeler commented.

Starbucks also runs its own platform, My Starbucks Ideas, an online community allowing customers and staff to make suggestions to the company – 75,000 of which have been rec

Data sourced from AdWeek; additional content by WARC staff