REI’s decentralized Twitter approach

Interesting read (excerpt with emphasis included) from Adage, “REI’s Twitter Strategy Is No Longer Camping Out at HQ – Outdoor Retailer’s Decentralized Approach Will Allow Local Staffers to Address Regional Needs

When it first started dabbling with social media a few years ago, REI, like most companies, set up a centralized team to handle outreach to bloggers, fans on Facebook and, later, communications on Twitter. While it won’t completely disband that team, the localized tack means the company is relying on far more staffers to participate in its social-media efforts. And it’s coordinating those efforts without the help of an agency. REI works with BBDO, Atlanta, for traditional creative duties and Prometheus Media for media duties, but has thus far handled much of its digital efforts and social media in-house.

“We are not moving away completely from a national presence,” a spokeswoman told Ad Age via email. “The local teams will be in addition to our national presence. Also, in terms of staffing, we have a handful of employees at each location participating in social media. They may play different roles within retail (customer service, outreach, product specialist, etc.).”

Inherent in the experiment is a lot of trust. The approach could be risky for REI because it’s not only a few, but now dozens or hundreds of employees that are empowered to talk about about the brand. Jordan Williams, manager of digital engagement for REI, told Ad Age that certain staff members are being identified as experts at handling customer complaints, others at communicating new product arrivals and features, and others as people who can provide local travel advice.

But Mr. Williams said it’s no different than what happens in the offline world. He noted the company has more than 9,000 employees and trusts its people every day to interface with customers in person, so why wouldn’t they trust them to do the same online?

After I tweeted Jordan in reply to his AdAge tweet,

I think u are on the right track. Unintended consequence: your local complaints may get national exposure, if handled …

and “correctly, means your national standard is enforced. If handled badly, flip side may be a variation of http://t.co/1lmQiyd

it resulted in a nice exchange,

@Kempton Fair point. But the crux of the issue is bad local experiences already get (potentially) national attention. But this means local..

@Kempton …teams can more likely make a bad experience better before it goes national as they’ll hear it and deal with it (we hope).

@jordancwilliams Right, bad experience won’t stay local. Local team gives local care, eg “Pls visit K street store to exchange 4 a new one”

@jordancwilliams right. resolve it locally. makes the customers happy and give them reason to want to shop again in the future.

As I wrote, I like REI‘s Decentralized Twitter Approach. On the surface, HQ has “less control” but I believe, ultimately, it will up everyone’s game and deliver a better customer service experiences.

Best of luck to Jordan and his team at REI.

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