They've got names like SteelToes, ChrisFixIt and THDiva. And they spend hours each week touting favorite products, sharing home-improvement tips and answering questions about everything from installing ceramic tile to venting a microwave. The Home Depot's so-called social-media store associates are part of a new, hybrid group that spends two days each week managing the retailer's How-To Community and creating content for use across the company.
In 2009 and 2010, the retailer was having internal discussions about what its social-media strategy should look like, said Brad Shaw, who leads the company's efforts as VP-corporate communications. At first Mr. Shaw said his group presented CEO Frank Blake with models that would build out a social-media team at corporate headquarters in Atlanta. Mr. Blake pushed back, saying that Home Depot's store associates were the company's strongest source of knowledge, and he wanted to think about how to use them before adding people to the corporate communications team.
One solution involved identifying knowledgeable associates with social- media skills and bringing them to corporate. But that plan was discarded. "We know that when a store associate leaves a store permanently their product knowledge immediately begins to degrade," Mr. Shaw said. "The way to stay fresh and current is to stay in the aisle with vendors and customers. We also wanted to be able to market them as real store associates. These are not call-center people or marketers or merchants or my communications team."