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.
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.