How I Bought Coffee for 12,000 People

Coffee Beans

Photo courtesty of

How do you buy coffee for 12,000 people?

Unless you’re Jesus or someone with gobs of money who likes buying alotta lattés, the task could be a little tricky.

Enter: social media.

Turns out, with the few swipes of your finger and a couple of tweets, you can buy coffee for as many people as you want. Here’s how…

I tweeted out a screen cap of a $100 Starbucks gift card I bought on my phone through the Starbucks app. A few clicks and I was good to go. Here’s the initial tweet:

I had seen this done a few times on other platforms, but I wanted to try it with my own online audience.

The Experiment

I didn’t think to take screen caps of the gift card balance until the first few purchases were made. We started at $100 at 1 pm. Here it’s down to $67 21 minutes later. 2013-09-26 13.21.36   It took over 15 minutes for the next wave of purchases. Still seeing hesitation from folks on social media as well… Why are you doing this? Is this real? Am I going to get arrested if I use this? 2013-09-26 13.37.35   Purchases started picking up as retweets from others went out and I started RT’ing the pictures from people who bought something and used the #ThinkCoffee hashtag. 2013-09-26 13.39.18   This was the single-biggest jump during the whole experiment. $20 was used in one minute. I’m not sure if this was one purchase or a number of purchases. Either way, it was fascinating to see how quickly the second half of the card was spent. 2013-09-26 13.40.52   Vanishing fast… 2013-09-26 13.47.12   10 minutes later and the card is almost used up! 2013-09-26 13.57.15   Less than one hour later, the card is at a $0 balance. It took 12,555 people (okay, maybe more like 14,000+ with Instagram and Facebook) 59 minutes to spend $100 at Starbucks locations all across the country (and even in Canada!). 2013-09-26 13.59.18  

The Results

Here are a few of the tweets people sent me after snagging a free Starbucks:






The Reasons

I had plenty of people ask me, Why are you doing this?

1. Fun

To be truthful, my main motivation was fun. Yep, fun. I knew doing something like this would be a blast, and it was.

There’s something about seeing a simple action change the course of the day for so many. And it was great to see people’s reactions as well. Jake’s was my favorite:

2. Curiosity. Another “reason” was seeing what would happen. The connective power of the social web is so vast, so big, so immediate, that I simply wanted to see what the effects of dropping $100 into the middle of a crowded waiting room.

The biggest purchase was $20.

The smallest purchase was $1.64.

Someone used it in Canada.

People got mad I was doing this and unfollowed me. “Too many tweets,” they said. Bye bye.

3. Generosity I wanted to prove generosity doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive. People love Starbucks. Those who follow me online are people. It stands to reason there would be a connection between the two. Even though I can’t personally meet up with each one of the 12,000+ people who follow me on Twitter, I could at least make an attempt to show my appreciation for the lot of ‘em. One fellow even called it “progressive generosity.” I like that:


And generosity always inspires:


The Takeaways

For brands, business, organizations, and individuals who don’t “get” social media yet, I thought this might be an interesting way to showcase its value.

In one hour, I was able to connect with dozens of people across the web and make a connection through one simple act. It didn’t take a lot of time. There was a basic “strategy” in place (see “The Reasons” up above).

This is how new media works. It’s messy, fun, exciting, helpful, and, largely, unproven. I have no idea if any of the people who used the gift card will ever purchase a single thing from me.

And that’s not the point.

The point is social media are about connecting with people in a meaningful way. Find ways to do that, often, and you’ll come out ahead. But the trick is you actually have to mean it. If social has taught us anything, it’s how to spot BS one hundred miles away.

There’s no neat, nice bow to tie on this other than to say I can’t wait to try it again.

What are you doing with your social media presence to add value to those who are following you?


I help people share what matters most.