Like Climbing Walls, REI Brings Social Media Marketing Inside The Store

MUKILTEO—Jordan Williams, Manager of Digital Engagement at REI, is in front of a packed house at BlogWell, north of Seattle, to share what the company has been doing to bring social media marketing down from the corporate level to the store level.

Explaining why this is important for REI, Williams says, “Customers feel strongly about their store.”

Even so, bringing an effective social media marketing strategy and executional plan to a company with 116 stores in 53 markets is no simple task. Williams says, “retail is all about selling” which isn’t what he’s looking for with this initiative. The middle ground is “serving customers,” he reasons.

REI has 8000-plus retail employees and that “we pay them to talk to customers all day, we can trust them to do so online,” Williams argues. Provided they comply with a few rules, the first and foremost rule being, “Don’t Sell.” “Don’t be a jerk” is another, as is “Don’t be afraid of negative comments.”

REI also faces some structural hurdles as they roll out their social-at-retail plan. For one, retail staff are not cube dwellers. Williams says the company is testing the use of tablets, and that they’re improving bandwidth at stores. He also notes that there are serious HR considerations. He says employees have to do REI’s social bidding on the clock, not on their own time.

The localization effort has been a one year-long process involving every group at REI except the supply chain. The result is REI now has a Facebook page in 56 markets. In mutli-store markets like Portland, Oregon the store managers figure out how to divide the labor among the self-nominated participants, some of whom come to the task already skilled in the fundamentals of social media.

Williams says REI uses Co-Tweet to manage the flow of information and access to the accounts. He also says getting analytics from “immature platforms” like Facebook and Twitter can be tough, but necessary, to gain ever-important organizational trust. Ideally, what’s needed is the ability to identify social followers as customers, he says.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.