You’ve got to hand it to Starbucks, they’re the world’s most liked brand, in Facebook-world that is.

After pioneering social commerce-powered loyalty programs on Facebook, using Foursquare to offer discounts for mayoral checkins, learning from Dell to create a customer-powered idea blog, and running promoted tweet campaigns on Twitter, Starbucks have now hooked up with the social commerce leader in private sales, Gilt.com in the US to offer their loyalty card holders early access to their new limited-edition luxury San Cristóbal ‘Special Reserve’ Starbucks coffee from the Gálapagos islands.

It works like this – if you’re one of the 1m+ Starbucks loyalty card members (MyStarbucksRewards), you’ll have received a special email invitation offering VIP early access to a private sale of the new, yet-to-be-launched ultra-premium San Cristóbal coffee on Gilt, a day before Gilt members get access, and weeks before anyone else.  And you get to exercise your bragging rights with the ubiquitous Facebook like button on Gilt.

What we like, or rather love and heart, about Starbucks’ latest social commerce initiative is it builds the brand, reinforcing the brand’s ability to discover and source some of the world’s exotic, rare and exquisite coffees and bring both the flavors and the experience to life for customers – especially it’s best customers.

It’s also smart social commerce in that that doesn’t erode margins – offering early access rather than price discounts to brand fans and followers. Furthermore, the initiative is designed to boost loyalty, rather than effect a short-term promotional sale bump – and in true Flip-the-Funnel fashion – is likely to stimulate advocacy whilst building customer lifetime value.

Additionally, it’s a very efficient social commerce initiative, leveraging an existing social commerce platform – the member-get-member powered Gilt.com – rather than seeking to build it’s own.  And by choosing a social commerce platform designed for luxury brands – the luxury credentials of San Cristóbal are reinforced. We don’t know much this cost Starbucks – but given that loyalty card members have to join Gilt to access the VIP event, it’s quite possible it cost the brand nothing at all.

And finally, it’s a very successful social commerce initiative – Gilt sold out of San Cristóbal coffee before most Gilt customers could get access to the Private Sale; Starbucks loyalty customers snapped everything up.

We think this is a smart approach to doing smart social commerce – and one other brands, particularly upscale or luxury brands would do well to consider – and possibly emulate.  How could you launch a product linking Facebook with a Private-Sales platform?

Kudos Starbucks, Kudos.