Jun 28, 2018

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

About the Company

Company Name: Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)

What the company does (according to Wikipedia): Recreational Equipment, Inc., commonly known as REI, is an American retail and outdoor recreation services corporation. It is organized as a consumers’ co-operative. REI sells sporting goods, camping gear, travel equipment and clothing. It also offers services such as outdoor-oriented vacations and courses. REI operates 154 retail stores in 36 states. It also receives orders via catalogs and online.

Website: https://www.rei.com                

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rei

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/REI

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/reicoop

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rei

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/reifindout

REI is one of my all-time favorite brands – and not because their products are amazing, but because everything they do (big or small) tells a story. It is the story of authenticity and caring.

It is an inspirational push to get every single one of us outdoors to experience nature and to find out what each one of us is capable of. From major moves like shutting down their stores on Black Friday to encourage their employees and customers to #OptOutside to sending personalized tweets that make you feel heard, REI is an epitome of a brand that walks the talk and lives its mission.

You see, in the age of digital revolution, just “being present” or “being cool on social media” isn’t enough. That might have been the case five years ago. Now, consumers are looking for you to walk the talk and live your mission. So before we jump into how cool REI is on social channels, let’s look at why people think the company is so cool.

Brand Consistency and Clarity

REI as a brand is extremely consistent with who they are and what they represent. Every single campaign, every single tweet, every single act by the brand supports their mission of “... inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

But REI isn’t just creating fun content, they act. That’s why for three years in a row now the company closed its stores on Black Friday – one of the biggest retail days of the year in the US.

Instead of promoting Black Friday shopping, in 2015 REI took a bold approach by proactively encouraging its employees and customers to #OptOutside. To do so, the company announced that it would close all of its retail locations and pay its employees as though it was a regular workday. The company said that their brand purpose was to get people outside and they wanted to partner with their customers on Black Friday to get them to do something unprecedented. The brand shut down completely, it didn’t even process online orders that day.

The #OptOutside campaign is hosted on a dedicated microsite where REI shares its goal for the campaign, highlighting: “Time outdoors makes you healthier and happier. And there are so many ways to get out. No need to be extreme. Just find a place near you, then open the door and head outside. Want to advance your skills? Theres a REI class for that (https://www.rei.com/opt-outside).”

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

The microsite cleverly listed a range of activities that you could do outdoors on Black Friday, such as camping, hiking, climbing, and more. By entering your hometown, you could uncover local outdoor activities to try.

To continue the conversation, the company shared the images and stories of customers and employees who decided to #OptOutside on its social media channels during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend, putting a human face on the movement.

The first-year campaign results were impressive, with a 7,000% increase in social media mentions. The company’s news also generated 2.7 billion PR impressions in just 24 hours. In total, the campaign generated 6.4 billion media impressions and 1.2 billion social media impressions while inspiring 1.4 million people to spend their day outdoors

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REI was completely blown away when other retailers decided to join them in closing their doors on Black Friday. In total, 150 retailers decided to close and hundreds of America’s State Parks decided to open their doors for free to support the #OptOutside movement.


  • Infuse your content strategy and social media engagement strategy with meaningful stories that show who you are. When in doubt, always refer to your brand guidelines and brand purpose. You can have the most entertaining content in the world, but if it doesn’t align with your values, it’ll create confusion.
  • When building out a content calendar across social channels, always collaborate with the key corporate teams such as Branding, PR, Communications etc. It will help you understand where your company is going and align the social engagement accordingly.

Community Management and Engagement

No matter the channel or the issue, REI has the best community managers. They are always there to answer a question or help with a challenge. Their response is quick, to the point, and helpful.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

REI does all kinds of fun things to engage their followers. For example, when the company paid out the dividends to its members, it invited them to share how they spent the money and then posted the coolest stories on their Instagram account.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

On its Pinterest page it curates cool suggestions and tips such as Outdoor Hacks, Adventure Destinations, Kid Gear, and more. Entertaining content is great, but value-add content is better.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

The company’s YouTube channel is full of useful how-to videos and expert advice on a variety of outdoor activities.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

Oh, and don’t forget having fun. Check out this awesome product the company “launched” (not really!) on April 1, 2018. It helps not to take yourself too seriously and have fun with your communities where appropriate. I’d say April Fool’s Day is definitely an appropriate reason to have fun with your communities.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success


  • Hire the right community managers. Remember – they are the face of your company on social channels.
  • Create a response time requirement and stick to it. People need to know that they can count on your response, and also know how fast to expect you to respond to them.
  • When posting on different channels, respect the context of that channel. Don’t post the same content in the same format, but tailor to that specific community. Each channel is different and each community is different. Respect that.
  • Don’t stick to the rigid corporate speak, use conversational, human language to engage with your communities. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, and if you do – apologize. The beauty of social channels is that they help us humanize the brand. So don’t turn them into another stuffy corporate channel.
  • Just because the best-in-class brands are present across all channels, this doesn’t mean you should be too. Choose the channel(s) wisely and don’t feel bad if you don’t master them all. By focusing on just a few, you can really build and nurture communities in a meaningful way, rather than being spread thin and not managing any of the communities well.

Customer Delight and Real-Time Response

One Christmas I had my own encounter with the “wow” experience when my casual tweet to REI, “What is the best gift suggestion you have this year?”, was answered through a video. Not only was the video custom made for me, it was made within 30 minutes of me posting my question. Even for the most innovative companies, that speed of response is to be envied.

Someone actually took time to create a custom response. What a novel concept! In doing so, REI presented itself as not only a socially savvy brand, but a brand that cares.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

That piqued my interest, and I decided to meet REI’s social media team and investigate further. I interviewed Lulu Gephart, social media team member at REI.

REI’s social team is composed of people passionate about working with customers. It was a natural fit for the brand because the company is a member-owned co-op. “Our members are the source of our inspiration,” said Lulu. “We love to bring our members’ outdoor inspiration and expertise to life on our social platforms.”

And it shows. That holiday season, the team decided to spice it up and answer holiday questions on Twitter with video. The program was called #giftpicks. To accomplish that, they used Green Vests – the in-store employees who pride themselves on their passion and expertise in various product lines and who are always available to help.

The team shot about 90 custom videos during the period of several days. During that time the referral traffic to REI’s site doubled. That is what I call “making marketing personal”. Brands that embrace the personal touch and creative agile response through rich media and visual marketing are reaping the benefits.


  • Relevancy has a deadline. Be present and be agile. Real-time response is not only appreciated but expected.
  • Have a space in your budget for the “real-time” programs or content creation. Sometimes a great idea appears or an unexpected opportunity presents itself. If your budget is tied up, you could miss out on a golden chance to do something creative and fun.
  • You don’t have to go above and beyond for every program/holiday/customer (after all, you can’t create a video response for every single person). But when you do, your communities will be watching and they will be delighted to see that you truly appreciate your customers. Find creative ways to engage with people. And nothing beats a personal touch.

Customer Care is the New Marketing

REI’s customer care is unprecedented – and a lot of people share their positive stories across social networks.

REI: An Outstanding Social Media Success

Whether it’s on social media or in-store, REI staff is always there to assist. Or recommend the best lunch spot, as seen in the image above. 

The brand even appeared in the Hollywood movie Wild, all because of their amazing customer care. The film is based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, who while on her 1,100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail lost her boots midway through the hike, but was able to call the company and they shipped her a new pair, no questions asked. That really stuck with Strayed and made it into both the book and the movie. There was no product placement deal, mind you. When was the last time your company appeared in a movie without paying for the placement?


  • Your marketing is great, but people want to get support when they have issues. Don’t underestimate social care in your strategy. A flashy commercial is fine, but if you cannot show your customers on a daily basis that you care about them, you might as well not waste your time on that fancy ad. 
  • Social media teams and customer care teams need to become best friends and design a process that connects customers with the right people who can help them right away. If you just hand them over without ensuring the issues got solved, you will only get angry social media posts. Collaborate internally so that it’s easier for the customer to get help and do so independently of the channel they initiated the conversation on.

Ekaterina Walter
Ekaterina Walter

Ekaterina has led strategic and marketing innovation for Fortune 500 brands such as Intel and Accenture. She is an international speaker and author of Wall Street Journal bestseller 'Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg'. Find out more about her profile here

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