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Tweet-a-Coffee: Starbucks takes to social media for advertising boost

Exterior of the Starbucks coffee shop at Bloor St. West and Albany Ave. in Toronto on March 11, 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Starbucks Canada wants you to buy more coffee – and give them a shot of free advertising along with it.

The coffee chain on Thursday announced the Canadian launch of a program that allows people to send a Starbucks gift card to their friends via Twitter.

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"Tweet-a-Coffee" has been up and running in test mode in the U.S. since October.

To use it, customers have to create an account with Starbucks, if they don't have one, and then link it to their Twitter account. Customers can then send a $5 gift card to someone on Twitter by posting a message saying "@Tweetacoffee to…" and including the recipient's Twitter handle. The company will then charge the credit card in the sender's Starbucks account. The recipient gets a digital voucher they can print or use on their mobile device at the store.

The bonus, of course, is that people receiving these gifts are likely to talk about the happy surprise on their own Twitter accounts. That kind of bump in conversation works as free advertising for the brand; it is associated with acts of goodwill, and because the messages do not come from Starbucks itself, they come across as more authentic.

It is also a sign of how the chain is ahead of the curve in taking advantage of mobile technology. It was one of the first out of the gate in the retail world with a mobile payment system that allows customers to quickly pay for coffee using the Starbucks app on their smartphones. In the summer, the company said that mobile payments now account for more than 10 per cent of all in-store purchases in the U.S.

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