How Home Depot Chose the Best Social Media Team for Their Brand

Home Depot is a brand known for customer service and the extensive knowledge of each associate in-store, on the sales floor.  When they began an internal search for a social-media team, the retailer had to decide whether creating a corporate communications team was the way to go for their brand.  According to AdAge, CEO Frank Blake redirected the social media focus back to the brand’s store associates and their extensive base of knowledge.

Instead of creating a corporate team, or plucking the ‘best’ potential social media experts from their stores and sending them off to corporate, Home Depot chose to keep the faces of their social media team in-store, to “stay fresh and current…in the aisle with vendors and customers.”

The plan:  create the ‘hybrid’ job of social-media store associate to staff the How-To Community, open 7 days a week and complete with forums, project and buying guides, and the how-to blog.

  • select 25 selected associates work 2 days a week on social-media efforts, and 3 days a week in their existing store job
  • spend social-media days managing the How-To Community, answering questions, and creating content for use company-wide
  • social-media store associates get cool names like SteelToes, ChrisFixIt and THDiva, as reported by AdAge

The team: How did Home Depot hone in on the best candidates for the positions, and prepare them for launch?

  • candidates were chosen from areas where Home Depot has regional offices
  • store managers helped the corporate team find candidates that were tech-savvy, good communicators and willing to work outside the store, and had significant experience with the brand
  • in-person interviews were conducted, and the chosen candidates were sent to a 2-day training session
  • associates were able to practice their tone and style on a “dark site” weeks before the launch of the ‘real’ How-To Community
  • all social-media store associates were given a Flip video camera to upload video responses and demonstrations

The challenges: How did Home Depot structure having a social media team outside of corporate headquarters?

  • store managers had to be convinced to give up some of their best associates 2 days per week
  • store managers had to collaborate with corporate for performance reviews – a percentage of each associate’s performance review comes from their work in social media/communications
  • social-media store associates were instructed to keep the two roles as separate as possible — no shooting videos or crafting posts on the 3 days that they are on the floor; only on the 2 days when they are in the social-media associate role

The results:  How did this non-traditional social media team structure work for the brand?

  • 7 months after launch, the How-To Community is ‘exceeding benchmarks’
  • Nearly 2,000 topics have been started – some discussions have led to hundreds of posts
  • the volume of posts is so high that the corporate can’t review all content before it’s posted, though all posts are reviewed within 24 to 48 hours
  • the associates are creating content beyond the How-To Community and will soon begin contributing to the company blog, The Apron
  • the Home Depot Facebook page has over 350,000 fans
  • @HomeDepot has nearly 40,000 followers on Twitter

AdAge quotes Brad Shaw, VP of Corporate Communications, “We’re seeing that [the social-media store associates] are becoming a center of gravity for content, in general, inside the company. Anywhere someone wants a how-to video shot, they’re coming to us.  We knew our associates would be good, but it’s just incredible to us just how great they are on the content front.”

Will other large retailers follow suit and create ‘hybrid’ store associate and social media positions?