Sharing the gospel of Starbucks

Melody Overton at a Seattle Starbucks

By day, she’s a criminal defense attorney.

But before work, after work, and on weekends, she’s StarbucksMelody.

For the past nine months, Melody Overton has been building her brand on the blog StarbucksMelody.com. Though she is not employed by Starbucks, Overton acts as a sort of brand ambassador for the company. She promotes new products, spreads Starbucks news, and creates discussion forums for fellow Starbucks fans.

Overton is part of a growing number of brand aficionados who blog, tweet, and spread the word about a company or product they believe in. Neither a journalist nor a Starbucks employee, Overton falls in a new, undefined category. She promotes a product made by a company who has never asked her or encouraged her to do so.

“I don’t think of myself as a journalist,” Overton said. “I felt all along the purpose of my blog was to share the rich experience I’ve had with Starbucks with the rest of the world.”

While Overton once believed Starbucks would welcome her blog with open arms, she is no longer sure about that. Some Starbucks employees tell her they love her blog, but Overton says she has never received encouraging messages from management. She requested a tour of the roasting plant and an interview with a longtime member of Starbucks management, but received no response.

The company did, however, invite her to the media preview event for the opening of Starbucks-owned Roy Street Coffee and Tea.

At times, Overton has written posts that she feels were not well received by Starbucks. After she blogged that a new technique called the “pour over brew” method would be coming to Starbucks stores, she received a message from a Starbucks employee saying the company wasn’t ready to make an announcement yet about the practice.

“I wonder if I’ve become a bit of a nuisance because they can’t control what I say,” Overton said. “I don’t want them to see me as a nuisance. I hope they’ll do more in the future to reach out to me.”

I asked Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe what the company thinks about StarbucksMelody and other company bloggers. She said Starbucks considers the attention a compliment, and wants to build relationships with bloggers. The company shares some information with bloggers and invites them to select events, Passe said.

When asked if the blogs pose any problems for Starbucks, Passe said the company wants to be sure the information posted is as accurate as possible, even if it contains opinion. For that reason, they want to communicate with bloggers such as StarbucksMelody. On whether bloggers should be treated the same as traditional media, Passe acknowledged that “the lines are often blurred.”

Since Overton launched StarbucksMelody nine months ago, she’s grown blog traffic to 250 to 300 unique visitors a day. Her Twitter account, SbuxMel, has 2,000 followers. She has not attempted to monetize the site, and has no future plans to do so. Overton’s biggest worry is burn out. She currently spends 15 to 20 hours a week with her blog.

“It’s a part time job,” Overton said. “I often spend a lot of Saturday writing content.”

Overton started StarbucksMelody because she wanted to share her excitement for Starbucks with others. She became a regular customer when she took a job in downtown Seattle in 2006. Her infatuation with the brand solidified two years later, when she met Howard Schultz at two public events and toured Starbucks headquarters. The tour offer came because the company noticed that Overton commented regularly on the web site Starbucks Gossip. After the tour, Overton felt like she was on a Starbucks high. She’d met the Starbucks leadership team and shopped in the company store.

“I felt like I was being treated like royalty,” Overton said.

By that time, Overton was attending Starbucks events, closely following company news, reading Starbucks blogs, communicating with other Starbucks fans, and participating in coffee tastings. She felt like she could share interesting Starbucks information and insider tips with others. Last September, she launched StarbucksMelody.

“I wanted to spread the excitement I felt for Starbucks,” Overton said.

What do you think of “fan blogs” that follow companies or products? Do you read them? Do you think they provide useful information?

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About Heidi Dietrich
HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi's blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she's writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.