How Starbucks’ #ComeTogether Political Petition Could Have Been Better

As Congress scrambles to end the government shutdown, Starbucks is delivering a petition signed by some 2 million voters urging legislators to get it together.

Starbucks’ #ComeTogether social media campaign asked the public to sign a petition telling congress to reopen government operations, pay bills on time and craft a bipartisan, long-term budget deal by the end of the year.

The campaign began on October 7, with a Tweet and ads in major newspapers. Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz reiterated the invitation in an Instagram video on October 11, and repeated the requests on Twitter.

A Facebook campaign kicked off October 10. With over 35 million people liking Starbucks’ Facebook page, that first post, which asked people to sign the #ComeTogether petition by liking it, garnered 187,702 likes and 17, 602 shares. We did the math: That’s a 0.6 percent response rate. A second post on October 12, and a third on October 15, garnered tens of thousands of likes.

With no social media left behind, Starbucks also posted its petition on Pinterest.

While many Starbucks stores had closed out the petition, tallied the signatures and sent them off to Washington on Monday, a few were still counting votes on Tuesday.

Starbucks is no stranger to cause marketing. It’s contributed to AIDs relief in Africa, supported marriage equality and taken a stand against bringing guns into its stores.

As a business owner, Schultz may have more clout than his customers. Forbes pegs Schultz’s personal net worth at $2 billion. Boyd Neil, senior vice president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says, “There is enormous frustration about having a government that isn’t at work. The sense I get is that he probably is personally frustrated, as well, and launched this as a way to express that personal frustration. At the same time, it hasn’t done the Starbucks brand any harm. They have given people a mechanism for expressing their frustration and that method of expression ties them a little closer to the Starbucks brand.”

The #ComeTogether campaign aims to harness the growth in use of social media for political organizing.

A 2012 survey by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 66 percent of social media users—or 39 percent of all American adults—have done at least one civic or political activity via social media.

On Tuesday, Starbucks released a statement saying close to 2 million signatures had been collected, and it was still counting. The petition was supposed to be delivered to congress and the president today, but the company did not say how. Starbucks did not respond to requests for comment via phone, email or Twitter.

Starbucks’ #ComeTogether campaign has been criticized for injecting a political agenda into commerce, as well as for giving the public a false sense of accomplishment for merely clicking to sign the petition. The latter is often dismissed as slacktivism – a lazy way to get involved.

Neil disagrees. “People engage in politics on many different levels,” he says. But he does fault #ComeTogether for not designing the campaign in ways that could encourage people to be more engaged. For example, Starbucks could have asked those who signed the petition to provide their zip codes so they could be sent the name and phone number of their congressional representative. Another option he suggests is asking signers for their email addresses and sending them suggested actions to take.”

Neil says, “It’s the responsibility of people who organize opposition to move people from where they are now to a place where they take more action. If I sign the petition, it’s not my fault I don’t do something else. It’s the weakness of the person who’s posted the petition.”

Related reading