Jonathan Stark – Social Experimenter or Marketing Genius?

Jonathan Stark is currently running a very interesting Social sharing experiment. He has published his Starbucks card for anyone to download onto their smartphone, and is allowing people to buy coffee on him.

Really. No Joke.

The Mobile Applications consultant, from Providence, R.I., has asked that people keep their purchases to $3 or less and that they tweet or blog about his project. He has also put in the facility to allow individuals to “pay it forward” by adding funds to the card if they so wish. His Twitter Account posts the current balance each time a transaction is made on the card.

It was while researching Mobile Payments for a start-up company in Boston that he came up with the idea. He took a screenshot of his Starbucks card on his iPhone and emailed it to himself. He found that by opening the image on any of his phones that the Starbucks barista could scan it and take funds from his Starbucks card account. He then made the image available to the world.

People with no smartphone were printing out the picture and taking that into Starbucks, one person even had the barista scan his laptop screen.

At the start of the project, in July, Stark had less than 100 followers on Twitter, so the card balance was always fairly low. But then, over the first weekend in August, his experiment was discovered and his followers have already gone past the 5,000 mark in a matter of days.

The card is constantly emptied and charged, with anonymous donations being made by those individuals wanting to contribute something back.

Stark has been criticised by some people who say he should donate money to a good cause rather than giving away coffee to people with smartphones, but he sees his experiment more as an example of “humans being good.”

“It’s literally giving people hope,” Stark said. “Ultimately the goal is for more people to do this kind of thing. I admit it seems a little frivolous to give away coffee to people with iPhones. But imagine if you had a CVS card and you could give someone $10 for their Alzheimer’s medication. The concept of frictionless social giving is very attractive. And this is just the beginning of that.”

It may be that, in the years to come, this kind of activity becomes the norm, with businesses being able to “give” their services for “free” – funded, in part or whole, by donations from users or individuals who see it as a worthwhile cause, in the same way that Shareware computer programmers accept donations for their software.

So is this a simple social experiment, or is it, perhaps, a great marketing and advertising ploy? Stark is getting his name known globally for the price of a few cups of coffee and that’s simply got to be cheap advertising!

You can visit Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks Card here.

This post originally appeared on the SugarUK Blogs.