Starbucks vs. Dunkin': Which brand wins on social media?

Julia Miashkova
by Julia Miashkova on August 12, 2020

Whoever thought that 'coffee and wi-fi' wasn't a sustainable business model was not a visionary and probably put all of their savings in the movie rental business. Meanwhile, Starbucks and Dunkin' — two of America's largest 'coffee and wi-fi' chains — have made it to the era of video streaming services and, now, apparently, a pandemic.

Dunkin' vs. Starbucks has been an iconic brand rivalry for a while. Now, however, as social distancing and self-isolation undermine the very concept of going out to get a coffee, it's even more interesting to watch brands navigating the covid storm. Seeing how we love doing brand battles, there couldn't be a better time to compare America's favorite coffee chains by way of a social listening analysis. 

Armed with a powerful social media monitoring and analytics tool Awario, we looked at the Starbucks and Dunkin' standoff through the lens of social media to run a data-driven comparison of the brands:

  1. The total number of brand mentions. 
  2. The total reach of brand mentions.
  3. The sentiment of conversations.
  4. Locations, languages, and gender of mentioners.
  5. Key topics featured alongside brand names.
  6. Influencers and brand ambassadors.
  7. Honest customer feedback. 

All of these are the insights Awario picks up while running 24/7 monitoring of brand mentions. We fired up 24/7 monitoring of mentions of Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts on social media 15 weeks ago, which means we now have 3+ months of social data to draw insights from. Let's see what we came up with.

1. Share of voice 

Share of voice is the first metric we look at when running a brand battle. This metric reflects the total number of brand mentions (both tagged and untagged) benchmarked against a competitor's. Awario can collect two types of mentions: 1) real-time, i.e. detected as soon as they were posted throughout the past 15 weeks, 2) historical, i.e. posted before social listening even started. 

Based on the sheer number of brand mentions, Starbucks leads by a large margin, boasting 3 times as many mentions as Dunkin'. This might not be the most surprising factor seeing how Starbucks managed to build quite a brand personality even though it's been around for a shorter while (founded 49 years ago) compared to Dunkin' Donuts (established 70 years ago). Still, faced with the numbers, it's hard to doubt Starbucks' supreme brand awareness and online visibility. 

2. Reach of brand mentions

Metric number two on our list is Reach. It gives us a deeper understanding of both brand awareness and visibility as it reflects the total number of impressions brand mentions generated, i.e. how many times social media users have been exposed to posts featuring either Starbucks or Dunkin' in the past 3+ months. 


In the case of Starbucks vs. Dunkin' Donuts, the reach of brand mentions corresponds to their volume. Starbucks, boasting a bigger number of brand mentions, also has a larger reach, and by more or less the same margin. Dunkin', with a third of all Starbucks' mentions, has a smaller reach, even though it caught up with Starbucks a little and got a bigger slice of the reach pie. This happens when one brand's mentioners are more powerful in social media terms, i.e. they have more followers and, therefore, give brand mentions a larger reach.

3. Net sentiment 

Net sentiment is a metric that helps us understand the prevailing tone behind social media conversations. It's calculated from the number of positive and negative mentions of each brand. Neutral mentions which are also detected by Awario as part of sentiment analysis are excluded from the calculation as we're only interested in explicitly positive and negative conversations.

For example, 27.1% of all mentions of Starbucks are positive, and 20.9% are negative. To calculate net sentiment, we use the following formula: (27.1-20.9) / (27.1+20.9) = 12.9. The fact that the number is positive means that positive mentions of Starbucks outweigh negative feedback; 12.9 or roughly 13% is the margin by which positive mentions prevail. Let's now see the net sentiment figures in perspective.

As you can see, Dunkin' Donuts leads the way when it comes to doing good by its customers (or at least appearing good and getting good feedback as a result). Although the difference may be considered negligible — 13% vs. 19% — it still reflects Dunkin's bigger customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score among other KPIs derived from social data analytics

4. Locations, languages, and gender of mentioners

Now that we've reviewed some of the mentions' stats, let's take a look at mentioners' analytics, mainly locations, languages, and gender of social media authors who've mentioned Starbucks or Dunkin' in the past 15 weeks. 

Since Awario was set to search for mentions in all geographic locations, we ended up with a long list of countries mentioners posted from. For the purposes of this analysis, we narrowed the list down to 124 countries — these are the locations that met the minimum requirement of 50 unique social media authors talking about Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts. Depending on which brand has a bigger share of voice, i.e. more mentions in any given location, we hereby present the world map divided between the two coffee chains.

As you can see, Starbucks, having a larger footprint (over 30,000 locations worldwide vs. Dunkin' Donuts' 11,300 locations), wins in 108 out of 124 countries. What's interesting is that in the U.S. — both brands' home territory — Dunkin' strikes back and wins in terms of the number of unique social media authors. This is not entirely unusual, as we've seen a similar tendency in our previous analyses such as KFC vs. Popeyes

Then, we were interested to take a closer look at the U.S. specifically to see the division of powers there. Awario can track mentions in a specific country, which empowers us to examine individual markets and compare shares of voice, reach, audience metrics, etc. The map we ended up with when benchmarking Starbucks and Dunkin' is the following.

Dunkin' wins not only in terms of the total number of unique authors talking about it on social media nationwide but also in terms of unique authors per state. The all-American coffee chain claims 30 U.S. states with more mentioners than Starbucks. What's revealing is the line of division that splits the country into Starbucks-loving west and Dunkin' Donuts-loving east. Amid the heartbreak of both Starbucks and Dunkin' closing stores in the U.S. because of the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the division of coffee chain powers within the country might become even more acute.

Meanwhile, when we look at the languages of brand mentions, the breakdown looks like this. 

As expected, Starbucks, having a much larger global presence than Dunkin', also boasts a larger variety of languages of brand mentions on social media. Although the selection of top languages is largely the same, the shares of non-English mentions of Starbucks are bigger, which only speaks to the brand's bigger market share overseas.

Last on our list of mentioners' metrics is gender. Let's look at the breakdown.

What social data tells us is that both Starbucks' and Dunkin's audiences are predominantly male, but the margin is so insignificant it can be safely neglected.

5. Key topics and trends

We're back with the mentions' stats — only in this section we'll be looking at the very contents of social media posts as opposed to their general tone or сold stats. Let's dive into the Topic cloud — key topics and running themes of branded conversations, visualized. The topic cloud is essentially an overview of the most popular keywords featured alongside Starbucks and Dunkin' on social media.

Right away, topic clouds for both brands reveal that the rivalry is very much alive in social media conversations between consumers. With strong arguments voiced on both sides, the debate is nowhere near a definitive resolution.

As per the rule of many social media conversations of today, things get a political turn very quickly. It's also not uncommon for businesses to get pulled into the conversation once their brand name has been featured on social media alongside whatever the politicized thread is about. 

Another key story that got reflected in the topic clouds has to do with a Starbucks barista who got a generous 'tip' through online donations after he refused to serve a customer not wearing a mask. Soon after, the customer, also known as a 'Karen' on social media, demanded a cut of the fundraised money. Naturally, social media had a lot to say about it.

6. Influencers and brand ambassadors 

No brand battle is complete without a review of the most influential social media accounts mentioning brands and, therefore, giving them a visibility boost and expanding their customer pools. Let's review some of the most popular posts from human influencers featuring Starbucks and Dunkin' that appeared on social media in the past 3+ months.

The most influential human mentioner of Starbucks turned out to be Brian Awadis, an American YouTuber known as FaZe Rug. By uploading a video on tipping a Starbucks employee (apparently, a running theme of this analysis), he exposed the brand name to his 16.1M subscribers.

The list of YouTube influencers who've given Starbucks a visibility boost in the past 3+ months includes a siblings duo known as SIS vs BRO. With an audience of 13.6M subscribers on YouTube alone, they are second-most influential social media personalities who've mentioned Starbucks and turned up in our analysis as the brand's endorsers. 

The list of Starbucks' influencers, all of which turned out to be 100% YouTubers, is headlined by yet another creator. Karina Garcia, a YouTuber with over 9M subscribers, was among the top-3 biggest human influencers who've mentioned Starbucks throughout the 15 weeks of our social listening analysis.

We're moving on to Dunkin' and its biggest influencers in the past 3 months. First up is yet another YouTube creator conglomerate: The Try Guys, a comedy channel with an audience of over 7M subscribers. 

Next up is John Legere — an American businessman and former CEO and president of T-Mobile US with an audience of 6.3M followers on Twitter. 

Mr. Legere is joined by another celebrity who might not have an equally impressive business resume but isn't too far behind in terms of monetization of his entertainment endeavors and an inexhaustible capacity to laugh at prepositions, nouns, verbs, and everything that comes in between. 

7. Honest customer feedback 

We've had a taste of what customers think of the Starbucks and Dunkin' rivalry earlier in this analysis when looking at the topic clouds. We'll now try and get the closest there is to a definitive answer to the ultimate question of which coffee chain is the best. How? By singling out and then benchmarking the posts that feature the > symbol as a means of proclaiming to the entirety of social media one's final stance in the 'best coffee and wi-fi chain' debate. 

During the 15 weeks of our social media analysis, there have been 66 posts stating plain and simple, i.e. using the > symbol, that Starbucks triumphs over Dunkin' Donuts.

Meanwhile, posts stating the opposite turned out to be many more — 2.2K — and also from much bigger (in terms of social media following and influence) authors.

Whether or not this is a legitimate point of comparison is for you to decide. That said, when working with huge amounts of social data, it helps to have such a straightforward format of expressing customers' affinity that can be put into numbers. 

Your conclusion is ready 

We've examined the Starbucks and Dunkin' rivalry from every angle social media listening allowed us to. Here's what we learned in the process. 

  • Starbucks wins in terms of its share of voice globally.
  • Dunkin' wins in terms of its share of voice in the U.S.
  • Starbucks wins in terms of the reach of brand mentions.
  • Dunkin' wins in terms of the sentiment of brand mentions.
  • Starbucks wins in terms of # of baristas who receive abnormally large tips.
  • Dunkin' wins in terms of # of straightforward love confessions on social.

As always, over to you! Based on the social data and analytics delivered by Awario, you're welcome to pick your personal favorite and take a stance in the Starbucks vs. Dunkin' debate. Meanwhile, we'll be on the lookout for more brand rivalries and ways to use social data to examine them.

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