How Lululemon controls the message on social media

Everybody’s favourite yogawear company knows how to both knit and spin a good yarn

Lululemon is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, B.C.’s best-known global export is very much a product of the hippy-dippy city that gave birth to it, with products that are easy on the eyes, and to the touch, and corporate lingo laden with equally soothing words like “guest” (customer) and “storytelling” (communications). Yet while the Vancouver-based retailer projects an aura of approachability, it’s also expert at controlling the message—and nowhere is that more apparent than in social media.

Allison Forsyth, director of global community engagement, and Carolyn Coles-Devine, director of digital strategy, laid out the company’s social strategy in a recent conference call. “At Lululemon, we’re grounded in giving our local communities really powerful voices,” explains Coles-Devine, a nine-year veteran of the company. “We’re in the process of building a strategy that positions our local communities at the centre of all of our storytelling and empowers our stores, our cities and our regions to play a much bigger role.”

Forsyth, who’s been with the company almost seven years, manages a team of 11: seven people in “digital engagement” (responding, via Twitter and other social media platforms, to customer concerns or questions) and four people on a “global social media” team, whose efforts are more proactive: getting the word out about the latest products or promoting the annual SeaWheeze marathon, for instance.

“Here at head office, we’re known as the ‘store support centre,’” says Forsyth. “When we talk about building community, we really look at having those one-to-one relationships and touch points with our community members—whether guests in our stores or people who just choose to interact with us at our yoga classes.”

The pair is eager to play up all the “innovative” things Lululemon is doing in social media. “We recently had a guest who tweeted us saying, ‘I’m having a really rough day and I could really use some cupcakes.’ So we actually sent her cupcakes to her door about an hour later,” says Forsyth with evident pride. Coles-Devine points to, the company’s blog, which allows users and company officials to talk to each other about products (new and old), colours and so on: “It’s a platform we designed specifically to listen to our guests. Across almost every key area on that channel, we have responses from cross-functional partners jumping in, asking questions and responding.”

As the company moves to a more decentralized social media strategy, empowering that so-called “storytelling” at the store level, I wonder how headquarters will keep the brand message in check. Coles-Devine is quick to respond: “Trust and training are the two biggest things that come to mind.”

Still, all the best training in the world can’t keep everybody in check, as Lululemon executives discovered when company founder Chip Wilson took to the airwaves, at the height of the company’s “sheer pants” controversy in 2013, to say that Lululemon products “don’t work” for some women—and then, days later, issued an unauthorized non-apology on YouTube.

No matter how good the storyline, some people will always go off-script.

For more from The BCBusiness Guide to Social Media, go here >>