REI's Community Manager Merges the Outdoors with Online

CMAD celebrations are still in full swing. Today, we wanted to focus on REI's Community Manager Kelly Walsh. REI has a longstanding history of serving its customers and helping enable shoppers to reach their outdoors goals. They have translated that wholesome experience into their social programs, led by Kelly, to further build the bond with their digital audience.

We asked Kelly how she helps REI support their online community and bring the Great Outdoors online.   



REI began as a co-op 76 years ago when a group of friends pooled their resources to purchase quality mountaineering gear they couldn’t find locally. Our very beginnings were based on a community of people with a shared passion. This is something my team and I keep in mind everyday as we work to inspire our customers, help them find what they need to play outside and build a connection through social media. As REI’s community manager, I think a lot about how to harness the energy and passion of #REIMembers, along with bringing the REI experience to life digitally. Here are a few things that I’ve learned:  


1. Be Authentic

- Be true to the brand’s values and be true to the behavior we are seeing in social platforms. These are my filters for our editorial strategy, supporting content and tone. The tone of posts and conversations with customers across platforms needs to sound like it is coming from a real person, just like you were talking with one of our Green Vests in an REI store. When it comes to authenticity, I want to be sure that the content will be welcomed and supports the existing behavior/content in a platform. There have been times when I’ve shared content that wasn’t well received across all social platforms. The community’s feedback was invaluable in pushing me to be a better steward of our communities and serve up relevant content on a platform-by-platform basis.



2. Be an Advocate

- As much as a community manager is an advocate for the brand, we are also advocates for the communities that we connect with every day. We have a responsibility to help educate our peers and leadership about the importance of community management, along with what our customers are saying about the brand. This year the REI Digital Engagement Team has focused on integrating both quantitative and qualitative feedback in our monthly reports, presentations and conversations. We share engagement, reach and traffic numbers, along with customer comments that reflect conversation trends in our social platforms. We share what we need to work on, as well as celebrate the positive impacts that REI is having on people’s lives.  


3. Build a Team

- You can't do it alone! This past year REI built out our community management infrastructure, policies and tools. Thanks to the diligence of people across the co-op, we are now able to respond quickly to customer love and concerns in a way that reflects REI’s standards of customer service. Having the right tools and external partnerships has helped make our overall process more efficient, while taking the pressure off of one person or team to engage across social platforms. I am very grateful to everyone at REI who helps facilitate a positive customer experience in social.  


4. Be Ready

- You can't plan for everything, but being flexible and knowing who to partner with and when can help you make solid decisions. Sometimes you walk into the office thinking, alright no meetings, plenty of time to get some work done. Then something happens and you need to make some pretty sensitive communication decisions. Unexpected situations merit empathy and careful consideration of which action to take, or not take in social. Be it a brand risk issue, a crisis or a major announcement (hey our CEO is nominated to be Secretary of the Interior ... for example), I have learned to be ready for anything.  


5. Take a Break

– You need to step away from the internet. Now that we have a strong infrastructure for managing the community, I try to play outside every day. Volunteering on Mt. Rainier, falling down the slopes of Whistler (someday I’ll be an average snowboarder) or taking a walk in a Seattle park are great ways to rejuvenate. Getting outside reminds me why I love my job and helps me share in our social communities’ love of the outdoors.  


Thank you for taking the time to talk about community management, Kelly. Your dedication to the REI community is what makes your customers, customers for life. Have questions for Kelly? Shoot her a tweet! Want to learn more about REI's social program? Read up on their strategy from Paolo Mottola, Digital Engagement Program Manager.'s picture

Caitlin Greenwood

Caitlin Greenwood is the Community Manager at Spredfast. With a background and passion for journalism and creative writing, Caitlin fosters engagement and builds meaningful relationships across the Spredfast social communities. Follow her on @mcgreenw for all things pop culture, social media, and snapshots of her corgi Marfa.