REI to Start Tweeting Locally: Regional Twitter Strategy Better Aligns With Retailer’s Localized Offerings

After managing its social media presence from its Seattle headquarters, outdoor retailer REI has decided to try a different approach. In her post for Advertising Age, Rupal Parekh reports that this week REI is assigning Twitter handles and tweeting duties to local staff in the 53 markets in which it has a presence.

That hasn’t been the corporate norm in America up to this point. Most companies seem to prefer tighter control over the corporate brand, building situation rooms, dashboards and SWAT teams at headquarters to take charge of sending and responding to Tweets – especially when they involve complaints.

REI decided to think nationally, but act locally. That matches its approach to carrying more merchandise for local needs rather than try to have every item in every store regardless of local interest. Just as it makes sense for stores near mountains to carry more climbing gear and cold weather clothing compared to those near beaches, it seems logical to have local staffers recommend the right equipment for outdoor activities in their particular geographic area.

REI won’t completely abandon its original centralized team to handle outreach to bloggers, Facebook and Twitter. National issues still will be handled by the social media staff at HQ. But local employees will be encouraged to handle local customer service, outreach and product advice issues. That’s a leap of faith and trust, but something REI always has had in its more than 100 stores.

But in a Twitter exchange with blogger Kempton Lan, REI’s Jordan Williams seems confident that the new strategy will work, emphasizing that bad customer experiences that can’t be resolved locally already get national attention.  “Bad local experiences already get (potentially) national attention,” Williams tweets. “But this means local teams can more likely make a bad experience better before it goes national as they’ll hear it and deal with it (we hope).“

AdAge says this decentralized approach is unusual in retail, although REI competitor L.L. Bean has tweeted specific deals and events for its Midwest customers.  While addressing a very different customer base, Home Depot has adopted a similar approach, creating the position of  ‘social media store associate’ – allowing local stores have their own social media presence and address questions directly.

Will this decentralized approach to social media work for large retail brands like Home Deport and REI, and will they be able to maintain a consistent brand image while addressing concerns on a local basis?  Let us know how you’re currently managing your brand’s social media strategy.