Lulu Gephart

Lulu Gephart on how REI created a sustainable user-generated content resource

This story features tips and advice from REI's Manager of Social and Earned Media, Lulu Gephart. You can check out her full presentation at's Brands-Only Summit here.

REI isn't just an outdoor gear store — they're a co-op.

They're number one in the nation's outdoors instructors, and their employees really love being outside. In fact, during her presentation at the Brands-Only Summit, Lulu Gephart, REI's Manager of Social and Earned Media, explains she had just gotten back from one of her own adventures.

“I have two lessons for you. If you get a chance to go hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees, do it. And don't drink the water, because you'll get the ‘Spanish Plague,' and you'll want to die.”

But for every great outdoor adventure REI's employees go on, there are thousands of their customers doing something just as amazing. To capitalize on that, Lulu explains, REI asked them to share photos and stories from those outdoor pursuits.

REI's 1440 Project started as a way to gather photos from outdoor adventures captured at every minute (all 1,440 of them) of the day.

Lulu's team created a Project 1440 microsite about two years ago and promoted the hashtag #REI1440Project on social and display ads. In just a few months, there were over a half million visits to the site and over 10,000 photos uploaded.

“We were floored by how successful it was,” Lulu shares.

The site collected meta-data from the photos and tagged information from users on the type of activity, location, and time of day each photo was taken.

“It turned out to be really smart. We didn't realize the repercussions of it when we did it. But the structured way we captured the meta-data and UGC helped lay the groundwork for how we use the user-generated content.”

Now, if they need an image of someone mountain biking in New England in the fall, they've got a way to find that. Lulu says it's been a great fallback during those times in the “content desert” when there's no campaign or promotion to support their posts.

And what about legal? Lulu says even that piece of the project has helped them earn advocates.

If users submit through the microsite, permission for REI to use the content is built in to the submission process. But when Lulu's team finds a great photo from a fan using #REI1440Project on Instagram, they reach out directly and personally ask for permission. They might say something like “Hey, we really like your #REI1440Project photo and might use it in our marketing. If you agree to the terms and conditions, just reply with #agree.”

In one example, an Instagram user was so excited to be asked for permission that she offered to send them a full resolution picture of the shot too.

“Our fans are really excited to be acknowledged and promoted through our channels, but we also find so many deeper stories through these interactions when we reach out to people.”

Lulu says scalability means depending on the stories and content — not platforms or campaigns.

“So many brands — during something like the Super Bowl — throw a hashtag into their commercial. And maybe there was a spike for that hashtag on that day or that week, but how many people are using those hashtag now?”

She adds that to truly build a sustainable story with your community, you have to avoid campaigns that depend on a platform that can be yanked out from under you. Instead, she encourages brands to rely on the storytelling and the content that can work across whatever platform your customers are using.

“We're trying to be really thoughtful about what hashtag strategy we can build that will be sustained so that every day it makes sense and is sustained within our community.”

Say hi to Lulu on Twitter and ask about her latest outdoor adventure. You can watch her full presentation from the Brands-Only Summit here.