Urban Outfitters On Social Media: ‘Don’t Commission An Agency To Figure This Stuff Out’

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[Editor’s note: Jen Mediano contributed this post to PRNewser. Mediano is a freelance writer and veteran of top interactive agencies including Razorfish and R/GA.]

Yesterday, the Social Media Club North Jersey hosted Teresa Lee, Director of Marketing at Urban Outfitters for a talk about Dynamic Marketing. Lee gave a low key but engaging talk that seemed to flummox some of the social media types there.

Her simple message: be where your customers are. Care about the content. Haven’t we been saying this since 2007? Yet people still resist despite the success of Urban Outfitters.

UO was an established brand before social media and Lee thinks that their customer base–young, adept at social media, irreverent, ironic –is the perfect audience for their experiments in social media.

In regards to social brand strategy, Lee said “Don’t commission an agency to figure this stuff out–do it yourself.”

Continued after the jump:

“It’s all about engaging content,” Lee says. Urban Outfitters took an experimental approach to social media. “It’s all of our jobs. Not ‘the social media person’ or ‘the catalog person’s’– we all do it. People aren’t in silos, so you have to be aware of what’s going on.” Everyone’s invested in the content; the people working at UO are the same kind of people who Tweet about UO.

Social media was part of creative at UO in 2007 when they started with MySpace. In 2008 it became part of marketing. YouTube contests and Flickr followed, and today they’re most active on Facebook, with 130,000 fans and a thriving Twitter feed (57,000+ followers).

What seemed to get the most reaction from the agency types was when Lee said that UO isn’t into net influencer scores. Instead, they treat their most loyal customers well. ” People on social networks are your best customers. We don’t throw tons of money at it. We can’t and don’t measure everything in terms of sales.”

What they’re doing right

  • They care. It’s all about a compelling message. They don’t fill up the content tabs on Facebook just because they’re there.
  • They look at the whole picture. Tweets and updates follow a marketing calendar but they’re more influenced by what’s going on. A band plays at an Urban Outfitters store? It goes up. UO will get traffic from people looking for the band’s performance and that’s fine with them.
  • They react fast. They’re entrepreneurial within safe bounds. “When things work, we go for it,” Lee says. The stakes aren’t high because they see social media as just one of many marketing efforts. It allows them to be experimental.
  • They give stuff away. Free music downloads to customers, free shipping events, and, rumor has it, free stuff to their most active fans
  • Good content rules. Advertising on Facebook is like asking people to be your friend. Who wants to be friends with someone who begs? If the stuff is compelling people will find you, and they’ll friend you.
  • They know that they’re not in control. “People always had an opinion and we can’t pretend we don’t hear it anymore,” says Lee. “All customers’ reactions will not be positive. We never had total control of brand perception.”

The crowd asked the usual questions about risk, negative comments, legal, content reviews and the other obstacles that hobble corporate forays into social media. Lee took it in stride and gave some cool examples of what happens when you loosen the reins and let the bad comments compete with the good, like when one guy asked a question about some shoes he wanted to buy: “what do I wear with this?” Other reviewers answered within the customer comments section, giving detailed styling advice and linked to other products on the UO site to complete the look. UO didn’t step in. They just gave the customers the space to let it happen.


Lee says they’ve doubled the social media program in two years and they’re always coming up with new programs. “Social networking is free,” she says. So experiment. “Develop a business case for it and grow from there.”

And she has 130,000 Facebook fans to show for it.

[Editor’s note: Jen Mediano contributed this post to PRNewser. Mediano is a freelance writer and veteran of top interactive agencies including Razorfish and R/GA.]