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Ukraine: Starbucks, Social Media Marketing, and “Language Issue”

Last month, a fake Starbucks Ukraine Facebook page caused a scandal on the Ukrainian Internet. The administrators of the instantly popular page where Starbucks, an international coffee and coffeehouse chain, supposedly announced its upcoming entry into the Ukrainian market, later posted a note found offensive by many Ukrainian netizens.

A copy of the note is provided [ru] by Watcher.com.ua:

Dear fans of Starbucks Ukraine!
The page will be administrated in Russian only because the majority of our subscribers are Russian-speaking.
In no way do we mean to offend the Ukrainian-speaking fans of the brand or provoke a conflict. You may post on the wall in [any language], even in Swahili. Starbucks is an intrenational company – we understand all languages.
Have a nice day!

The page gathered hundreds of negative comments and appeals by angered Facebook users.

Here is one such appeal [en] by TV host Oleksandr Zinchenko:

Dear Sir/Madam,
My appeal is in regards to Ukrainian (I don't know if it is separate Office or combined with Russian) Office. The page of Starbucks Ukraine in Facebook ( [www.facebook.com] )posted all info in Russian language with justification that Ukrainian people all understand it and they don't need translation into official Ukrainian language. Also derogatory comment of that kind: you can write your complaints even on Swahili if don't want to use Russian- we don't care.

Other netizens were unhappy as well.

Twitter user @povnatorba wrote [uk]:

Ukrainophobes at Starbucks Ukraine http://povnatorba.com/ukrajinofoby-v-starbucks-ukraine/

Soon, the page was taken down by Facebook. Starbucks’ U.S. office confirmed that it was indeed a fake.

However, according to the analysis [uk] by Serhiy Pishkovtsiy of Blogoreader.org.ua [uk], it is not uncommon for Ukrainian as well as foreign brands in Ukraine to run their social media accounts in Russian. His chart illustrates [uk, ru, en] the situation:

Pishkovtsiy writes [uk]:

I understand that the selection of business may not be (or even surely is not) representative – the companies are of different business areas and scale.

However, it opens our eyes to the so-called “language issue”: only three companies Sony Ericsson, McDonald’s and Pepsi administrate their accounts exclusively in Ukrainian. Curiously, none of them has been established in Ukraine.

Pishkovtsiy concludes [uk] that Russophone social media marketing (SMM) accounts alone are unlikely to disturb the Ukrainian Internet audience. Unless, of course, the language in which they are maintained is aggressively paraded around.

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