Using Social Media at REI

Just about once a year, it seems like a new social media platform comes out of nowhere. This past year brought teenagers and young adults Pinterest and Snapchat; their one common goal is to bring users together share interests and communicate. One thing is for sure: these social media platforms are working well and succeeding within our modern society. Now anyone with a smartphone or access to a computer can be part of a community. People around the world can now feel as relevant as ever. A man on the east coast of the United States can like someone’s picture on the other side of the country, even if they have never met! This last week, my friend added five followers to their Instagram account, just for adding a popular tag to their photo. When he saw the notifications on their phone, he chuckled and added, “I have know idea who these people are!” Well, friend, they are your community.

The rapid expansion of social media has allowed people around the world to connect. This connection has in turn fostered invisible communities, driven by the fuel that is generated by social media. As writers, it is our job to shape these communities. Just two weeks ago, my close friend and manager at REI was flown to Seattle, Washington for a managerial conference. One topic that was closely discussed was the way that REI uses social media. My manager, Nat Thompson, came back brimming with ideas concerned with how we can target our market here in Flagstaff. Having an REI in a small city like Flagstaff is a great opportunity to form a community through social media, especially because we are a member owned co-op. I decided that interviewing Nat would be a great opportunity to ask hi some questions about how, as authors, we can best utilize social media. You can find my interview with Nat below:

Question: How does REI currently view social media?

Answer: One of the fundamental components of REI’s social media is inspiring our customers to seek adventure. We want people to subscribe to our Instagram, Facebook page, and other sites because we want them to get outside! That’s what our entire company is about. So, we post pictures, articles, and videos with the intent of motivating our customer to pursue a life of adventure. They don’t need to hike a mountain to find it, but we want to captivate each part of our customer base and make them feel relevant, whether it be walking the dog or taking a quick bike ride around their city.

Question: What kind of social media does REI use, and how do they use it?

Answer: Our number one goal is to create an experience for our customer. This can sometimes be difficult with sites like Facebook or Twitter. However, our community marketing manager said that social media needs to be immediate. So, take a look at REI’s twitter page. Anyone with a Twitter account can specifically ask REI a question. At the conference, we were shown a great example. Someone had asked on the Twitter page what the best Christmas gift was for a teenager. The community marketing team actually created a quick three minute video that was specifically made for the customer. In this sense, the customer had immediate satisfaction and felt like they weren’t ignored.

Question: Wow, the social media team will actually create a video response?

Question: Absolutely. Seeing a face really helps customers know that there is someone on the other side of the screen. Just another way of bringing the store to them.

Question: Are there any specific platforms that seem to work best for REI?

Answer: It really depends. Facebook has been around the longest, so it has the largest following, but, REI has really benefited from Instagram. Sharing pictures of a new piece of gear or a landscape someone took while backpacking is exactly what REI needed. We don’t even need to use our own pictures. Sometimes we take other people’s pictures that tag REI and we will reuse it under our account. This just allows our audience to know that we are listening to them.

Question: What kind of audience does REI try and target?

Answer: REI wants to target everyone. We believe that there is an outdoor hobby for everyone, even if someone doesn’t like being outdoors. However, as a marketing strategy, REI has identified three distinct customers: the experienced customer, the passionate customer, and the inexperienced customer. Essentially, the experienced customer comes into the store with a grocery list of things they need to buy. They know they need a new ice axe or backpack. This group is the least likely to use social media simply due to age constraints. A lot of our oldest members fall into this category. We really want to target the passionate and inexperienced customer. Like I said earlier, we want to motivate people. The passionate customer can’t wait to get back outside, but they might not know about a new product. The inexperienced customer doesn’t even know what’s possible outside. Social media allows us to get these kinds of people excited.

An example of how REI gets people motivated!
An example of how REI gets people motivated!

Question: Finally, how did REI’s social media writers learn to write in this particular setting?

Answer: REI tries to promote or expand internally whenever it is possible. A lot of our writers used to wear a green vest in the store just like we are today. They have only expanded their scope and have brought the stores to those can’t make it in that day. We believe that someone must work in an REI store to fully understand what the co-op is about. We are hear to outfit and inspire lifetimes worth of adventure.

After finishing my interview with Nat, I was glad to learn that REI is proud of their social media platforms. By inspiring a lifetime of adventure, customers will not only be motivated to go outside, but they will also feel compelled to visit the store for the next piece of gear to improve their trip. I also found Nat’s answers oddly reassuring. As an outdoor company, it might be hard to feel relevant to people around the world. My opinion was quickly changed after viewing REI’s Instagram account. The REI account has hundreds of photos from around the world, each showing a little portrait of someone’s passion; my personal favorites are the photos of people’s campsites. Some photos even show the location where the photo was taken. The account is also very easy to find: simply search for @REI, and you will soon be greeted with adventurous photos.

Nat’s answers also illustrate the correlation between social media and timely responses. George Rimalower’s article, “Translating Social Media Messages for a Global Audience,” argues that social media is rapidly expanding and creating a community that craves instant communication. For this reason, Rimalower states, “the rule in social media is get to the point, immediately.” Luckily, REI has recognized this component of social media, as demonstrated by the use of video responses on Twitter. These video responses not only provide a timely response, but they also create a community that other users can reference for their own personal benefit. This same customer might even share this knowledge with their friend, thereby improving the community.

REI also prides itself on inspiring customers, even if they are on the other side of the country. Christopher Swan, author of “Connecting the World Through Social Media,” concludes that social media is about sharing a message. He specifically calls authors to “meet your communication goal of sharing a core message, no matter the location or style” (Swan). By using social media sites in conjunction with photos and inspiring articles, REI has effectively created a community of passionate, outdoor-loving people. Although they target multiple audiences from around the world, their mission remains sincere, “inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

Swan, Christopher. “Connecting the World Through Social Media.” International Association of Business Communicators. CW Bulletin. Web. 10 October 2014.

6 thoughts on “Using Social Media at REI”

  1. Chase,
    I loved how you incorporated your mom into your post by providing us with her perspective on social media. As you mentioned, social media has fostered many changes to that of a journalist. Has your mom had a difficult time with social media because she isn’t of that generation? Great way at incorporating your personal background into the blog!



  2. Oops… Ignore that comment above. That was for Chase. I copied and pasted the wrong one.


    Great blog! It is pretty incredible how social media has connected us in ways that were beyond our imagination at one point. Your comment about how Pinterest and Snapchat has brought people together recently is very true, especially with Pinterest. People can use other people’s ideas and make them their own or improve upon them. But one of the troubling aspects of social media for me is how disconnected we’ve become. Do you really think that Snapchat has brought us together? I’m sure you were just providing an example, but is it one of the best social media platforms that connect us? I think there are good social media platforms and not so good ones. That one, in my opinion, lacks in any good communication. As a teacher, my students utilize Snapchat all the time… in fact, they abuse it. They’re more concerned with taking a ridiculous photo of themselves then actually engaging in class. I’m sure that some of it has to do with them not wanting to be in class; however, I would bet they do this when they’re hanging out with their friends. We’re so afraid to have a conversation with each other that we detach and take goofy pictures of ourselves and call it “connecting.” Okay, I’m off my soap box now.

    You’re right that as writers it is our job to shape these communities that are on social networking sites. Being in a small city does make it crucial for organizations to use social media to its fullest capabilities. We have to be cognizant though about how we are communicating with them on such a global scale. The way every culture understands language and context is going to make it difficult to spread awareness of one’s organization accurately. As you pointed out, Rimalower states, “the rule in social media is get to the point, immediately.” Is immediately the best course of action though? Are we using social media too exclusively? I have my opinions on these, but I would love to read your thoughts on them. I know this blog is very pro social media, but there are negatives too it as well. It seems like that side isn’t addressed much.
    Your interview with your friend was interesting. Some background on Nat would be helpful to the reader. It’s important to know about the person being interviewed. I would like to know more about what challenges he’s faced with social media. Has he had any issues in when communicating with people through social media? You mentioned that the mission statement of the company is to ““inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” I’m not trying to sound snarky, but being that it deal with outdoor adventure… how is connecting through social media the best way for connecting? I know you kind of addressed this already, but I would like some more of your thoughts on it. I think of the site That is a perfect site because it uses social media as way to actually connect with each other face to face. It gets people away from the social media platform and out into the real world.

    I like the quotes that you used, but I think you should have integrated them into your interview. For example, after a couple interview responses you could have referenced to the text to elaborate on your question or your friend’s response. This would improve the credibility. I think this a better way rather than inserting them at the end. They feel a little tacked on that way. Also, I would like other examples besides this interview. I know the assignment asked for one interview, but it did give the option of “several interviews.” I only suggest this because I thought the interview you did was interesting, but I would like to hear another take on the topic.

    Lastly, some kind of screen images or even a link to your friend’s social media sites would be helpful. I wanted to look at them to see how he used them to connect effectively. Overall, I really like your blog, Kendal.



  3. Hi, Kendall!

    Well your interview and analysis worked! I want to go outside now and play! I totally would have clicked through to REI’s social media sites if you had linked them because the little blue line would be waving at me and and I wouldn’t be able to help it! Then, once there, I would probably like the site and spend too much time looking around. 🙂 And I’d be super curious to see a link to one of the mentioned videos if they are available! Fun! I will take you up on the search your recommended though because I’ve been craving a bit of “outside.” Thanks!

    I never heard of Snapshot and will definitely look it up. (You could also link that if you wanted!)

    I really loved your tone—conversational, fun, and spunky! And I especially liked this link: “people around the world can now feel as relevant as ever.” Love it! You’re right! Social media does let everyone have a spotlight on themselves for a bit.

    I noticed a small typo third line from the bottom of paragraph two: “hi” should be “him.”

    Great post! Thank you!


  4. Kendal,
    REI has a purpose and vision with which to target its customer: adventures in the outdoors. For a company like member owned REI, it makes a lot of sense to use social media to connect the members with one another around this primary concept. You communicated that really well, mentioning it in the beginning, throughout the body of your blog and then finally at the end. That idea threaded all the way through the blog, which I think is a good thing because the reader can hold onto that idea and follow it to a conclusion. You also highlighted the idea of REI identity; people can recognize REI as a single minded unit. I can see the retailers wearing the green vests to show solidarity. Nice work.



  5. Hi Kendal! It was nice meeting you at REI last week (and sort of appropriate that I figured out who you were through this blog). I ended up winning the bike race that I was telling you about, which brings me to a question about REI’s social media. Who uses REI’s social media? Do the costumers post REI’s Facebook page and to Instagram? Or is it the employees doing most of the posting and promoting. In other words, I think it would be really funny to post a photo of me with one of the Cliff Shots I bought at REI in one hand and my trophy in the other, and tag it wit something like “Thanks for the Cliff Shots”…but I would never do that with such a big store. The local bike shop who works on my bike, however, I might consider doing something that silly on their Facebook page. But it also sounds like your manager is excited about tapping into more of the local scene…which makes sense since REI is a co-op! Anyway, I’ll make sure to like REI Flagstaff whenever it makes it into my Facebook feed. Thanks!


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