22 December 2008

Straight No Chaser lands Atlantic Record deal thanks to YouTube

Adolescent international singing sensations, Charice Pempengco and Nikki Yanofsky, have no doubt had their careers boosted by YouTube. Though they've been compared to celebrities like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Etta James, the counts on their video views don't even approach those of male a cappella group, Straight No Chaser.

The group from Indiana University posted a ten-year-old video of their rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas" on YouTube, which has received more than 9.7 million views in just over two and a half years. Amongst the viewers was chairman and chief executive of Atlantic Records, Craig Kallman, who arranged a five album record deal with the group.

CNN interviewed two of the guys this weekend. About their careers outside of singing as a hobby, member, Jerome Collins said: "I was doing a festival of 'The Lion King,' and I was Simba. We have one guy selling medical devices, another guy a reporter for ABC, one guy working at a bank, another guy a teacher. ... You name it, we have it."

My college a cappella group, Talisman, was invited to sing for George Lucas and toured South Africa, but we never went viral. I doubt Page One PR's Christmas caroling video will, either. Talk about a big break for Straight No Chaser – the whole story is yet another iteration of the American dream, really. You can learn more about the group here.

18 December 2008

Freak out: Twitter infested by PR

When I first saw that headline from BusinessWeek blogger, Stephen Baker, I prepared myself for the attack PR people often endure from journalists and bloggers who think we're mindless drones trying to sell our souls to get clients into headline news.

On Friday, BusinessWeek online editor, John Byrne, posted all of the BusinessWeek Twitter addresses on his blog. He wrote, "As part of our effort to deeply engage our readers, a good many of us at BusinessWeek have been having great success and fun with Twitter, the hot micro-blogging site that allows users to blog in 140 characters or less... if you are on Twitter, I invite you into our newsroom via my Tweets."

As the crew at BusinessWeek began feeling an uncomfortable number of new followers join their feeds, it wasn't long before they began wondering who was following them and who was stalking. Thank goodness Stephen's post wasn't focused on kicking the already low PR flack.

The social experiment Byrne is running is quite interesting - it's not wholly unlike how outlets like Mashable, ReadWriteWeb and other prominent blogs get their news. With Digg still gaining popularity (no, it's not dead) and the New York Times syndicating like crazy, it's pretty smart for BusinessWeek to move in this direction and open up, too.

I noticed one reader commented on November 22: "John, I love that you're on Twitter and Facebook, and all over the Web. It keeps BW fresh and relevant for digital kids like me:)"

It's fascinating to see what's happening in journalism right now and how our media relations are constantly changing as a result. It's not uncommon for me to pitch journalists based on their tweets – but what's wrong with that? Doesn't that make my content all the more relevant?

By the same token, if I see a journalist is busy or having an off day, I can tell thanks to Twitter. Also, there are actually quite a few bloggers who can't stop tweeting and spamming my TweetDeck. So, everyone benefits by pushing out their content in 140 characters or less, driving traffic to their sites and getting a piece of the pie. Will be interesting to see what happens as the walls of traditional journalism keep tumbling down.

08 December 2008

Holiday Cheer Rings through Page One PR

I think you know your employer is cool when they ask you to sing on their behalf. At Page One PR, business isn't just about the press releases, the speaking abstracts or the contributed articles – but yes, we work hard on these. Our inspiration comes from engaging with clients, working to support real business goals and enjoying what we do.

We've been behind-the-scenes to build social media campaigns for our clients this year, but decided to turn the camera on ourselves this holiday season. Get ready for our 15 seconds of fame – lights, camera, action!

Rather than design and print our usual satirical holiday cards, we decided to save a few trees by dusting off our singing voices for your viewing pleasure.

I hope you'll check out our hi-res video – yes, that is a penguin in the photo! – and maybe even smile. I had a lot of fun filming, enjoyed singing and loved being merry. Hope you like the video. Here's to warm wishes for the holidays and to a happy new year. Cheers!

P.S.– If you like crazy reindeer, don't forget to check out this special feature from the Page One PR Santa Barbara office. Boy, that guy can deck the halls!

29 November 2008

Oprah Online Community Strong

Oprah Winfrey has touched millions of women and families through her talk show, book club and magazine. It's no surprise she's built a strong online community as well. I don't tend to watch Oprah but caught the tail end of a show over Thanksgiving break. I was amazed to see how well she's translated her show online.

For example, Oprah explores Food online by featuring chef Cristina Ferrare. Food is a natural vertical for Oprah as she has been upfront about her various diets for almost forever. Visitors can access recipes, menus and videos of Cristina "cooking class" online. Check out turkey 101 here.

Oprah.com fans benefit from a wide variety of arts, culture, health, fitness, religious and psychology experts via Oprah & Friends Radio. Online podcasts are attached to each expert. You can listen to advice for home design on a budget here or hear Dr. Maya Angelou talk about women in country music here.

For those fans looking to connect with each other, you can join Oprah's online community to participate in message board discussions or register your blog. Currently, over 5,800 blogs are linked to Oprah's online community.

The site still has a long way to go – it doesn't seem quite as well mashed and video-oriented as the web site for the Rachael Ray show. Nevertheless, Oprah's online community is alive and strong. I'm sure it will only get better.

28 November 2008

Redefine Christmas – Social Media Meets Charitable Giving

Charitable giving is no doubt a natural target for social media. I've blogged about this before with regards to the Obama campaign, the American Express Members Project, and the San Diego Zoo.

As budgets tighten this season, why not experiment with philanthropic presents? Of course, I can't imagine parents foregoing toys for charity, but for those people who exchange presents with close friends, colleagues and extended family, giving the gift of good is certainly easier than before.

For example, The Point allows anyone to start or join a campaign that asks for people to donate money or take action as a group. The Point focuses on enabling people to act, influence and accomplish. Success stories include raising money to help someone rebuild her house after a fire. Campaigns don't have to be large.

By contrast, Network for Good is an online resource for people looking to donate to a good cause or volunteer. In addition, Network for Good provides services for registered non-profits, such as processing online donations, marketing email blasts, donor databases (through Salesforce.com) and "Nonprofit 911" fundraising training calls.

Last for this post, but not least, is Redefine Christmas, a site dedicated to funneling online charitable donations to JustGive.org and Changing the Present. It also allows users to request charitable gifts via e-cards. From Redefine Christmas:

It's about changing the way we look at gift giving and receiving. It's taking money we usually spend on obligatory gifts with little meaning, and creating gifts of charity that give in multiple ways, to the receiver, the giver, and people who truly need.

Obviously, giving gifts to charity isn't new. Enabling donations through technology and online is just the most convenient iteration of philanthropic campaigns building online communities. Will you join in this holiday season?

15 November 2008

Obama Delivers Weekly Address on YouTube

During the presidential race, I blogged about McCain and Obama's use of social media tools. Now that Obama is President-elect, he's continuing to leverage social media with his transition website: Change.gov.

For example, Obama delivered the Democratic weekly address from his transition office in Chicago for the first time ever via YouTube (video embedded below). He hopes to continue when in the White House, though all weekly speeches will also be broadcast on the radio.

CNET reported yesterday that the Obama campaign uploaded more than 1,800 videos to its YouTube channel.

The Obama campaign relied heavily on reaching out and inciting people to get involved – particularly online. Obama's transition office continues to invite widespread participation by asking Americans to share both their personal stories and their hopes for America online.

I haven't owned a radio since I went to college so, for me, watching Obama address Americans each week will be a much more convenient way of digesting his agenda. I'm guessing millions of Americans – Obama fan or not – will tune in online from home, from work, from public libraries and from their mobile phones. Will you?

13 November 2008

Gap Inc's Merry Mix It Campaign – Social Media, Celebrities and Fun

Gap Inc. is ushering in the holiday season with some re-mixed celebrity Christmas carols and mix-able holiday separates, such as scarves, gloves and sweaters. The company has used a variety of social media tools and celebrity models in the past, but this is the first time I've seen them combined and acting goofy.
Check out the "Merry Mix It" campaign and see for yourself. You can choose from:
  • Selma Blair and Rainn Wilson singing "Baby It's Cold Outside"
  • Jon Heder and Janelle Monáe performing a unique version of "Winter Wonderland"
  • Jason Biggs, Romany Malco and Freddy Rodriguez sounding bells to "We 3 Kingz"
  • The Dixie Chicks and Sandra Bernhard belting out "Deck the Halls"
  • Flo Rida and Trey Songz remixing "Jingle Bells"
  • Special performance of the entire holiday cast performing a never-before seen remix of "Jingle Bells" led by Flo Rida and Trey Songz
The latter is by far my favorite (also embedded below), but that's not why this marketing campaign is brilliant. Continuing on the theme of "mix it," Gap encourages viewers to share these videos with friends and embed in social networking pages like Facebook and MySpace. iPhone users can download Gap's iTunes application to watch the videos on the go. You can even "mix" (or customize) your own version of Jingle Bells using various clips of the celebrity cast and send it to your family.

Gap's clever plan to virally spread their holiday collection gets even better because with a subtle call to action: if you like what you see, you can follow a link back to gap.com and purchase each celebrity's wardrobe.

I'm an off and on fan of Gap. And, though I had already planned to participate in Gap's friends and family "Give and Get Program" this weekend for 30% off clothes, with 5% going to a local charity of my choice, I'll probably come away with at least one more sweater or scarf than I had originally expected.

What holiday marketing campaigns have caught your eye?

10 November 2008

Do Marketers Care About SWOT Analyses?

On the first day of class, Intro to Marketing teacher and Scalent VP of Marketing, Kevin Epstein, taught me an old Stanford Business School trick: how to conduct a SWOT analysis. In short, analyze key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) before building any marketing plan.

Over the last few months, I've been working with various clients who are currently preparing for major product launches. As a result, we've been constructing messaging platforms – this exercise isn't easy!

Surprisingly, I haven't seen a SWOT analysis in action, yet. Are they too basic and cliché, or perhaps simply irrelevant? I beg to differ. Clients often get caught up in how exciting and wonderful new products or services are and assume customers or prospective customers will understand by osmosis. Even worse, they believe words like ROI, TCO, best-of-blank, easy-to-blank and speed-to-blank will bowl over the competition.

That's when PR people like me ask questions like: Why is this exciting, important or relevant? How are you different from and better than your competitors? Who is your target audience?

Again, this exercise isn't easy, but it is absolutely essential, especially if expect press, blogger or analyst coverage. And while being honest about your product and/or company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats may seem mundane, remember that customers, partners, investors and other target audiences are unlikely to understand the niche details of your product or service. In other words, if you're Target, you don't want to be confused with Kmart. Highlight strengths, such as local, faster, easier, largest community, and quantify them if you can. Pursue opportunities, such as "first to X" or "burgeoning need for Y." Next, devise a plan to bolster your weaknesses and mitigate (or try to avoid) threats. From there, you'll be in a good position to construct your messaging platform. Believe me, your PR people will love you for it.

08 November 2008

Customer Always Wrong at PetSmart

I finally joined Yelp today, but only to make sure I spread the word about the extremely poor customer service at the PetSmart in Mountain View, Calif. I've speculated it might be possible to cheat the social media system but, today, I am grateful for online word-of-mouth channels.

Remember that famous adage, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"? William Congreve may have been referring to a woman rejected in love, but if you're lacking customer love: Watch out!

It's no secret you can expect poor customer service at stores like Walmart, but the trade-off is fabulously low prices. You prepare yourself to be shoved around, to sort through disheveled merchandise and to wait in painfully long lines. Then, you smile at how much money you've saved on your shopping trip and chalk it all up to sacrificing comfort for your pocketbook. Unfortunately, at PetSmart, there is no bright side. If you want the gory details, feel free to check out my scathing review here.

I've used Yelp various times to search for a new restaurant or beauty salon. I'm starting to think I might try avoiding heartache by checking Yelp first every time I want to try a new business. I promise, my next review will be a positive happy one.

As it turns out, multiple people have given PetSmart poor reviews. I wish I had the advance warning. I'm not typically an angry person, but a little customer service – doesn't even have to be good, excellent or stellar service – is not too much to expect from any self-respecting business, right?

04 November 2008

Building a Website Ain't Easy

When I joined the Winters Health team at Page One PR to help rebuild the foundation's website, I thought I was in for some fun and games. NOT the case!

Building a website takes an inordinate amount of time, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate clearly and manage meticulously while also inspiring the troops and keeping that "light" at the end of the tunnel within reach.

Working with the Winters Healthcare Foundation (WHF) was not my first experience with building a new website, but I did learn some key lessons:

1) Don't boil an ocean
Although we imagined a variety of "cool" elements to incorporate into our website, we had to focus on core marketing goals. For example, who do we want to attract? Who do we want to reach? How do we want to reach them? These are the questions that drove the design and content of the site.

2) Delegating less is more
The logistics of the site became complicated as we had we developers, a graphic designer, our PR team and several constituents from WHF involved. Although it seems intuitive "if you want something done, do it yourself," I learned that going the extra mile is even more important when working with vast groups of people with various specialties.

3) Pick your battles
Despite trying to tightly manage the process of creating a new web site, there are definitely times when you must surrender to outside forces. Content, design, artwork – these may turn out different than you pictured but, hang in there and everything will turn out fine.

My "lessons learned" are fairly vague, but trust me, they apply. I think any project that combines so many different talents will encounter the same challenges, but doesn't that make the finished product that much better?

27 October 2008

Nordstrom Uses Online Videos; Size Doesn't Matter

If you thought diamonds were a girl's best friend, it's time to consider denim. Nordstrom has taken this to a new level for online shoppers with its Denim ID Experience.

As denim becomes acceptable lady attire for most occasions, designer jeans flank the racks at department stores such as Nordstrom and Macy's. But, which brand and what size?

If you're faced with choosing amongst Seven For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, True Religion, Paige Premium, Hudson and more, deciding on a pair of jeans that are guaranteed to cost more than $150 each can be daunting.

So, when you're in the dressing room, how do you know if a pair of jeans that is too tight and too long will be the right $185 buy? Nordstrom's Denim ID Experience offers various online videos to teach women about how to shop for the right pair of designer jeans. The site emphasizes "size doesn't matter," and offers guides for fitting your hips and assessing each brand's "stretch factor."

The brilliance behind Nordstrom's Denim ID
Ladies may only need a little extra confidence to spend two to three times the price of household jeans for a designer pair. Nordstrom addresses the insecurities and concerns women have around denim shopping head on, and thereby empowers them.

By comparison, Bloomingdale's online Denim Shop isn't quite as user friendly as Nordstrom, but is leagues better than Macy's. Check out the video embedded below and see for yourself. After all, why be caught dead in Gap jeans when you've got a killer pair of Sevens or Citizens?

25 October 2008

Online Reviews are Second to Word of Mouth Marketing

According to a study published Wednesday by Rubicon Consulting, word of mouth marketing is still the #1 driver of purchase decisions. Among web users, online content has moved into second place, ahead of advice from salespeople and printed reviews.

The study upholds that roughly 10 percent of users create 90 percent of user-generated content on any given social media site. The report argues, however: "Web discussion is a performance in which a small group of people interact with each other, and with companies, for the benefit, education, and amusement of everyone else."

What this really means: even though a company might only interact with 10 percent of users online, you can bet your end-of-year bonus that a much larger percentage of customers will judge the company based on its online interactions.

When I've talked to various clients at Page One PR about incorporating social media campaigns into their existing marketing and PR plans, they're often unsure if target customers are receptive to social media tools. Interestingly, a recent poll by Forrester Research indicates 75 percent of Internet users participate in some form of social media in 2008 versus 56 percent in 2007.

Analyst Josh Bernoff argues this may just be a fad: "The novelty of today's social technologies will eventually wear off, and consumer adoption will plateau as all new media eventually do." Don't think that means social media's effectiveness will fade away, however, as Bernoff continues: "But consumers will expect marketers to continue the relationship they've formed over time and still listen to what they have to say."

Still skeptical about social media marketing? When was the last time you used online user-generated content to decide which book to buy or choose a new restaurant to try?

24 October 2008

Need a Job? Why Not Invest in an Alpaca?

When I first saw a TV commercial from the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association entreating me to invest in an alpaca as a "great source" of income, I thought some clever person must be offering a whiff of levity in the midst of our current economic crisis. Was I watching an SNL skit, perhaps?

Expecting to find a joke along the lines of the Pomegranate phone, I went to check out the Alpaca Info website and, yes, there is an Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association! Don't believe me? Check out the "just released" video and see for yourself. When I think about it, the timing of these commercials is prime to catch thousands of Americans disgruntled with Corporate America - why not turn to Alpaca farming?

Apparently, there are two kinds of Alpacas: Huacaya and Suri. Their fur fibers are silky and therefore quite fashionable when woven into fleece for coats and outerwear. There's a whole web site dedicated to Alpaca Fashion, too!

Former Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns financiers - have you considered investing in Alpacas?

21 October 2008

Social Media Phones Fueled by Open Source?

Earlier this month, I read about a study reporting that 93 percent of online Americans believe companies should have a presence among social media tools, with 85 percent of respondents saying companies should interact with consumers through social media.

As businesses figure out how to leverage social media tools online, it's probably not too early to start thinking about reaching customers on their mobile devices, too.

Though I hardly access Twitter or Facebook from my Blackberry at the moment, Silicon.com reported today that smartphones may outsell mobile phones in five years thanks to social media integration. According to John Ellis, director of carrier market development in Motorola's software ecosystem team, "Texting and voice of today are slowly evaporating and slowly diminishing in our rear view mirror as we move into social media, rich user experiences."

BusinessWeek ran the story as well, which points to open source as a key driver for the development of mobile social media. The Google Android phone will no doubt raise the bar. Funambol, provider of open source push email and mobile sync, is also seeing a surge of interest in open source mobile development. The company announced today that 1500 new developers have joined the company's registered open source developer community in the last month alone. Funambol is now sponsoring mobile developers who can integrate its portal with Google Docs and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace - the company's open source software runs on 1.5 billion mobile devices, including smartphones.

Even more futuristic for mobile enthusiasts is the Samsung concept wrist watch phone pictured above that will evaluate your vitals, such as blood pressure and heart rate.

As the mobile opportunity seizes opportunities to delve into new fields, we are sure to see more advertising, marketing and customer service on mobile phones – will social media become the key conduit?

19 October 2008

Social Media Classroom introduces "participative pedagogy"

This weekend I came across the Social Media Classroom, a free online service packaging Web 2.0 and social media tools for students and teachers.

The Social Media Classroom is an open source Drupal-based web service including online forums, blogs, wikis, chat, social bookmarking, RSS, microblogging, video, and more. For a video preview of SMC, check out this post on ReadWriteWeb.

According to founder, Howard Rheingold, SMC includes curriculum and training materials to help students learn "the rhetoric of social media."

Rheingold advises: "Today, alphabetic literacy and visual literacy are not enough... The co-evolution of technology, media and collective action hasn't stopped, it's gone into hyper-drive."

With initial funding from HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) and the MacArthur Foundation, SMC offers its web service to anyone, including businesses and non-profits.

While SMC will enable students to blog about class, share photos from a field trip and "tweet" questions in real-time, its potential is much greater.

For example, one SMC sponsor commented, "Imagine a mixed reality game in which high school students from Los Angeles and Cairo learn about real-time impacts of air pollution in their neighborhoods."

Super cool! Will SMC prove Disney right? Is it really that small a world after all?

15 October 2008

Video Your Vote; Dance for a Toyota

Two social media video and online voting campaigns caught my eye last night: Video Your Vote and Dance for Toyotas.

First up, Video Your Vote, a non-partisan channel launched by YouTube in partnership with PBS to encourage American voters to sound off at the polls. The site entreats: "It's Your Democracy... Shoot a video of your experience at the polls on Election Day..."

The buck doesn't stop there. Mashable's Paul Glazowski noted again yesterday that this year may indeed be a "YouTube election." CNET reports that select uploads from Video Your Vote will be shown on Jim Lehrer's The NewsHour on PBS during Election Day coverage. The YouTube channel also touts an educational component with "Voting 101" and a look at historical footage from the PBS archives reviewing voting through the years.

After you've learned the in's and out's of how to share your vote, dust off your dancing shoes and get ready to win a new car. Well, maybe it's not that easy, but Toyota announced yesterday Dancing for Toyotas, a ballroom dance competition to take place in February 2009 at the Washington Auto Show.

Though the theme of the competition reminds me of a contest hosted by GroundWork Open Source at LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, San Francisco, called "Who's The Next Open Source Idol?", Toyota isn't messing around with this brilliant PR stunt.

Winners will walk away with one of three cars! Enter by November 14 and you could win a Toyota Camry Hybrid or Prius. Even easier, vote online and you might win car #3: a Toyota Yaris.

Not a bad bounty for today's high oil prices and our bad economy.

Forget striking it rich with game shows like The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune. Why bother when you can just dance?

13 October 2008

Who Says You Need a Press Release? MokaFive's iPhone Sentinel Blog Launch

Tired of drafting those pesky press releases? Why not use your blog to break news?

That's what we did with MokaFive last month for the company's iPhone Sentinel prototype. The News: Vinod Khosla-backed desktop virtualization vendor launches plug-in for iPhone users to carry a full desktop on the iPhone.

The Challenge: Drive prototype downloads during VMworld – one of the biggest virtualization industry events of the year. With Microsoft's own virtualization event the week prior and only seven days to prepare, we can generate buzz in the middle of this loud press circus, right?

Right! We skipped the formal press release and hit the blogosphere directly via the MokaFive corporate blog. Why? Rather than reach typical press release outlets, MokaFive wanted to target a very specific audience – cream-of-the-crop tech enthusiasts who would download and test the prototype, then offer helpful feedback on the product.

During VMworld, our news hit The New York Times, CNET, TechRepublic, jkOnTheRun, Life Hacker, Mobile Devices Today, DaniWeb, LinuxStreet and more. Many of the blogs were syndicated, too.

MokaFive's web traffic quadrupled on the day of the announcement. Life Hacker alone referred more than 2,800 people to MokaFive's web site. According to Radian6, there were 85 total blogs talking about MokaFive 15-29 Sept; 35 of these were posted the day of our blog announcement. There were also 50 blogs that mentioned "iPhone Sentinel" 15-29 Sept; 30 of which ran the same day as our blog announcement.

MokaFive saw an increase of 273% in visitors to their downloads page. In addition, the MokaFive Player page went from fewer than 50 visits the week before VMworld to more than 8,000 visits during the week of our blog announcement. In addition, downloads from MokaFive's community site increased by 50%.

Key takeaways:
1) Consider strategies to build up your blog readership so your first blog-only launch is sure to reach your target audience.

2) Messaging and important talking points can easily get lost in the fast-paced start-up environment. While the exercise of writing a press release often helps distill key takeaways you want to communicate, it's not the only tool for grooming spokespeople. Make sure you always carefully prep spokespeople – with or without a press release – or they may look sloppy in interviews.

3) Don't expect your blog to do all the work. Consider ways to market your blog to make it visible within the communities you want to reach. Then, get your PR team to pitch like crazy. For example, our top blog hits (NYT, CNET) came from personal relationships and hardcore pitching.

4) Make sure the "news" is worthy. Although Microsoft, Sun, VMware, Citrix, HP, Dell, Red Hat and a variety of startups were making desktop virtualization product and customer announcements last month, MokaFive is the first to move virtual desktops to mobile phones.

If you're considering using your corporate blog as a platform for breaking news, go for it! If you're a seasoned PR pro with the right relationships in place, what's to lose?

Check out this post at the Page Wonder blog.

07 October 2008

Presidential Race Leverages Social Media

During tonight's presidential debate, I paused my DVR to check out live blog coverage as well as each candidate's website. I've been curious to learn how social media tools are leveraged by both presidential candidates.

Obama's website with the heading "The Change We Need" features on the homepage both Barack TV and the latest Obama Blog post. Visitors can also access state-specific Obama sites, make a donation, register to vote and volunteer to support the campaign.

Right hand widgets welcome Hillary Clinton supporters and allow visitors to create a password-protected account to personalize their experience. Visitors can also sign up for mobile updates and join the Obama conversation on various social networks. News updates, an interactive map and apparel store complete the home page.

McCain's website implores visitors to donate today, join an online phone bank and "speak out" on the debate. Another feature allows campaign volunteers to earn points when they join the McCain team, contribute time or money and recruit friends. There are "Photos of the Week," news updates and upcoming events listed as well.

My favorite feature is the Debate Central component. If you click through, there are already YouTube videos, or "Debate Moments," featuring McCain's best sound bytes from tonight's debate. You'll also find quotes supporting McCain from various bloggers who covered tonight's debate live.

Overall, I prefer Obama's home page to McCain's. If I had more time to scour through, I might reach a different verdict. The wow factor at www.barackobama.com was Barack TV and the Obama Blog featured on the home page. Aside from that, mobile updates, the interactive map and the call to create a personal page were icing and a cherry on top. The site is warm and welcoming.

By contrast, I think McCain's Debate Central is pretty clever. Monitoring the blogosphere and posting snippets from nine prominent blogs in real-time – that's impressive. I also like McCain's Volunteer HQ "Campaign Action Center" enticing volunteers to earn points by supporting McCain, but the strong call to donate and recruit others started to verge on cult behavior.

No matter what political party you're backing this year, it's worth monitoring what tools each candidate is using to interface with constituents. After all, with our country's future at stake, couldn't we all afford to tune in?

29 September 2008

American Express Do-Gooder Campaign Leverages Customer Community with Social Media Tools

Claiming its the first company to launch a cause-related marketing campaign via a program benefiting the Statue of Liberty in 1983, American Express has been leveraging its customer community to support important causes for twenty-five years now.

This year's Members Project is yet another socially-minded campaign. American Express will split up $2.5 million amongst five different projects that "make a positive impact on the world." The online-only initiative allows any American to join the conversation and nominate their favorite do-gooder project.

American Express kicked off the Members Project by announcing results from a survey that showed 96 percent of Americans feel now, more than ever, the world needs "great ideas" to make a positive difference. In addition, 92 percent of respondents said they believe in the "power of ideas to help change the world."

So why is a credit card company bringing people together to share their ideas, passions and beliefs in order to help change the world?

The answer is offered by Jud Linville, president and CEO of Consumer Services at American Express: "...
it's not just about ideas; it's about all participants galvanizing their own personal networks - friends, family members, colleagues - to get behind the causes that are meaningful to them." This should also read: and to encourage our customers to spend more money with American Express while they're at it.

Tapping the power of human networks - what a brilliant case of good marketing and PR. Inspire customers, enable them, make them heroes. It's not a new tactic.

This year, American Express is making good use of
social media tools such as Facebook and MySpace to help people spread the word. They encourage customers to use photos, audio and video to enhance their nominations and promote their projects. The campaign will announce the Top Five projects at midnight tonight. From there, anyone can vote for their favorite project - the winners will be announced October 14.

To date, there are 1190 projects nominated by 213,522 nominations. There are 7651 comments on the discussion board.

I have to admit, I haven't voted, yet, but the Members Project has won my support as an American Express customer - I'm happy to align spending power with a company that prides itself on being a global "good citizen" by supporting worthy causes. After all, if I'm going to be spending money these days, I might as well help save the world, right?

26 September 2008

My Dad is Starting a Blog!

As a full time chaplain at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, my dad's job is to reach out to patients and their families, help them find comfort, and support them during their hospital stay.

Whether you visit for a sprained ankle or something more serious, Rady Children's Hospital seeks to provide the best care in the country. Because of this mission, the hospital attracts families from all over the country. During his career as a chaplain, my dad has met with families from San Diego to Hawaii.

Rady Children's Hospital has built a strong network of community volunteers and maintains connections with former patients and their families. The hospital has a strong online presence, but I couldn't find any blogs associated. For this reason, I recommended my dad start a blog to offer security and comfort to anyone in need.

The excellence of Rady Children's Hospital largely depends on support from volunteers and donors. I'm hoping my dad's blog will prove an effective marketing and PR tool. I've noticed there are already several forward-thinking pastors and naval chaplains blogging.

In addition, Rady Children's Hospital actively cultivates community. For example, my dad's department, pastoral care, hosts various events for families who have lost a child. These events are often held near San Diego Bay in public parks. Families can come and grieve openly with each other - they can share their experiences, celebrate the children they've lost, and figure out how to cope. Families will return for years after they've lost a child.

I hope my dad's blog will reach out to families and individuals with non-denominational insight and inspiration. Of course, I'm a biased believer that my dad's intellect and empathy will attract a wide following. After all, while doctors and nurses must maintain a professional and detached demeanor, my dad has a unique role to reach out and touch people.

Plus, you might be surprised at the variety of adventures a children's hospital chaplain faces. Whether he's chasing Sea World's penguins around the halls or sitting in as Santa Claus for a playroom party, my dad never settles for a dull moment. And, despite all the sorrow you might imagine surrounds my dad's profession, he amazingly witnesses a lot of miracles, too.

So, I'm going to raise my hand and edit my dad's blog - it's just one more excuse to chat with my him weekly. I look forward to dad's blog launch next month and hope you might check it out, too. At the end of the day, we can all use some introspective inspiration, right?

24 September 2008

From SlideShare to CNET - Popular Presentations Make News

Tired of sending around your presentation as a PDF email attachment? Check out SlideShare, a free online repository for PowerPoint presentations. It's a fast and easy way to share your presentations - chances are you'll get more eyes on it than you think.

For example, Funambol CEO, Fabrizio Capobianco, posted his keynote presentation from the World Computer Congress a week ago. Since then, the presentation has 409 views, 39 downloads, 3 embeds, 3 favorites and 1 comment. Even better, the slide deck caught the attention of CNET News open source blogger, Matt Asay, who wrote about Fabrizio's presentation yesterday.

This is what we PR types like to call "making our job easy." In the high tech startup space, you don't often get clients who make their own news. It's great when it happens.

OpenLogic, another Page One client, turned to SlideShare last month to post the results of its Open Source Census. That presentation got over 1300 views and was featured on SlideShare's homepage the same week.

The above numbers might not seem impressive, even after you consider the narrowed open source enthusiast audience both presentations target. In both cases, however, the presentations reached a greater audience than they would have otherwise. OpenLogic also saw some inbound leads and enthusiasm from the SlideShare community.

Using a social media tool like SlideShare not only immortalizes your content and brand in an easy-to-search-and-share environment, but also helps communicate key messages in a stripped down, no fluff way.

When I conduct research, I rely most heavily on the Internet to find any free information or data points I can use. SlideShare is great for providing this type of information - just search for "Forrester Research" or any top analyst firm and see what you find.

Especially if you're a small company exploring new marketing channels and avenues, I say go for it - you never know where you'll presentation will turn up or who will point right back at you.

23 September 2008

Celebrity Chefs Are Everywhere!

What do M&Ms and wild Alaskan salmon have in common? Celebrity chefs as spokespeople, of course.

When I first saw this M&M ad, I chuckled and thought, "What the heck are M&Ms up to now?" I then realized the M&M "shell-ebrity" I was staring at (pictured left) is Bobby Flay - one of the Food Network's celebrity chefs.

You can check out more M&M "shell-ebrities" here.

Food Network chefs are popping up all over the place these days. Even the Rachael Ray Dunkin' Donuts terrorist scarf fiasco hasn't curbed corporate America's appetite to hire Food Network celebrity chefs as spokespeople. Some of these campaigns are more well-received than others - sorry Rachael Ray.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been fairly successful in partnering with all-star chefs. In 1999, the aquarium embarked on a Seafood Watch campaign encouraging visitors to make sustainable seafood choices. It built up various promotional channels for its sustainable seafood campaign, including an enticing program of chic food, wine and cooking events that appeals to the sort of high-brow crowd that grassroots campaigns and "save the world" petitions might not reach.

This year, Food Network's Alton Brown hosted the "Food for Solutions" gala and 55 local restaurants participated. Talk about cultivating community. In fact, forget about snuggly sea otters and terrifying great white sharks - Monterey Bay Aquarium now markets to any "foodie" or "wino" on the planet. It was even named a Tastemaker by Bon Appétit magazine this month.

Using famous chefs to talk about sustainable seafood to drooling crowds is a brilliant way to drive buzz around the aquarium's core message. It probably doesn't hurt fund raising campaigns, either. What an ingenious PR and Marketing plan! Just last week I read in an e-mail (btw, I'm an MBA member):

Thanks to you and other Seafood Watch supporters, we’ve succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Major buyers, from Wal-Mart to Compass Group and ARAMARK, are shifting to sustainable seafood. We’ve distributed more than 24 million consumer pocket guides, created a Seafood Watch Mobile service, and won the allegiance of noted chefs across North America.

Lessons learned? Food brings people together. If you're looking to promote your next product or service, consider bringing in a Food Network celebrity chef, even if they don't belong. After all, they're fun, talented and family-friendly - what more could you need?

22 September 2008

Penguins, Foxes, Cows, Oh My! "Open Source Idol" Exceeds Client Business Goals

If you went to LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco this summer, you might have noticed a herd of young ladies dressed up as open source mascots. Tux the penguin, the GNU, Mozilla's Firefox and BSD's Beastie devil roamed the show floor asking "Who's The Next Open Source Idol?" and searching for willing souls to sing and dance on behalf of their favorite OSS mascot. Don't worry if you didn't make it to LinuxWorld this year, we were caught on tape. You can check out the outlandish fun here.

You might wonder what spurred this madness. Well, it wasn't all fun and games. We had concrete goals to accomplish on behalf of our client, GroundWork Open Source. First, demonstrate that GroundWork is a dedicated member of the open source developer community. Second, attract over 1000 views to GroundWork's YouTube channel over two months.

We needed to produce videos that would appeal to any open source enthusiast around the world. So, why not go straight for the patriotic spirit mascots have been known to inspire?

At this point, various forces in the universe collided: I was addicted to the popular reality show "So You Think You Can Dance?" which kept dancing on my mind. In addition, I had just learned about Cisco's first social media product launch, which helped me understand ways to integrate various social media tools for PR and marketing.

Lying in bed at 3 am the morning before we were to brainstorm fun ideas for GroundWork, the first flash of "Who's The Next Open Source Idol?" popped into my head. I immediately jumped up and started researching iconic open source animals. Before dawn, I had begun brainstorming various traditional marketing and social media tools we could use to promote the contest. Of course, this all hinged on my confidence that we could convince a bunch of open source developers to sing and dance on camera. No problem, right?

The rest of the project is almost a blur as we proposed the idea to GroundWork only two days before the start of LinuxWorld. There was a lot to prepare and the Page One PR social media team worked hard to turn a crazy idea into reality. Our fearless leader, Craig Oda, and social media guru, Shelly Milam, led the charge while Kim Terca, Ariana Parasco and I were eager to dive in.

Here are some stats for what the social media team was able to produce in about a week's time:

Campaign Promotion and Social Media Integration
First, we needed to figure out creative ways to promote open source idol. We didn't have the luxury of building up momentum before the show because we only had a couple days to throw this project together. The videos for GroundWork's YouTube channel were required for the project, but we used them as "teasers" to drive traffic to an online polling widget posted on GroundWork's open source community site. We put out a social media release and used Twitter and Facebook to help promote our videos and online voting. We also took votes from people at LinuxWorld and offered them "I Voted" stickers. We gave out free "Who's The Next Open Source Idol?" t-shirts to people for singing and dancing on camera. GroundWork blogged about the contest while we appealed to Mitchell Baker, Chairperson of Mozilla Foundation, and blasted open source community mailing lists encouraging developers to vote.

Outstanding Results
GroundWork's corporate website traffic increased by 43% during the first three days of the contest. 1,113 people went to GroundWork's open source community site to vote online. Combined, all four videos received 5000 views in one week (our goal was 1000 views over two months). GroundWork received a lot of chatter in the Twittersphere and also gained new followers. "Who's The Next Open Source Idol?" was posted to Fark.com and was covered by Wired.com, Network World, and bounced around the blogosphere as well.

Highs and Lows
The amount of energy and adrenaline that went into "Who's The Next Open Source Idol?" was amazing. I guess there weren't any lows here. Though the project was time-intensive and exhausting, it was really fun. If you watch the fourth video, you'll even see GroundWork's VP of Marketing hopping in on the open source idol conga line.

By the conclusion of this project, GroundWork had received remarkable attention from open source enthusiasts around the world. I am also proud to say that Firefox was the official contest winner! There are at least three different Firefox character throughout the four videos we produced. I wonder if you can recognize which one was me?

20 September 2008

Is There Truth to the Twitter Song?

"If you haven't been bookmarked, re-tweeted and blogged - you might as well not have existed..."

This line comes from Ben Walker's Twitter song, "You're No One If You're Not On Twitter." With over 200K views in just 3 weeks, Walker's song pokes fun at Twitter fanatics who publicly announce their every sneeze on Twitter.

I picked up the video yesterday from VentureBeat and found the song pretty hilarious. As far as I've seen, there is a lot of truth to the lyrics.

I've been holding off from blogging about Twitter because it seems almost cliche by now. Surprisingly, some of my high tech clients are NOT on Twitter. Those who are avoiding it have reactions that are similar to my college friends who boycotted Facebook four years ago - they don't want to share dull moments like "I'm having a hot dog for dinner" in a public forum.

I admit I had the same "I'm too cool for Twitter" reaction at first. Since the tool is becoming essential for PR pros, I joined and now find it pretty useful for business. For example, I have arranged client interviews based on blogger "tweets." In addition, following analysts, journalists and other outlets helps me catch breaking news faster than Google Alerts. For rapid response pitching, Twitter has been great.

At the same time, Twitter can be incredibly distracting. The New York Times elaborated today on how Google and Twitter ultimately expand our minds while also limiting our attention spans. I enjoy following my friends' updates, but there are definitely characters on Twitter who are just too noisy. I sometimes wonder if people like Tim O'Reilly have hired someone else to tweet for them. I mean, how can you tweet every ten minutes - or more - while still functioning as a normal person?

If you aren't on Twitter, I recommend you check it out. When used correctly, Twitter can be an effective marketing and customer service tool. For this reason, as you search for friends and family to follow, you might look for retailers, service providers, magazines, newspapers and non-profits, too. You'll probably be surprised by the number of feeds you want to follow.

Twitter keeps people, organizations, causes and companies that I care about high on my radar. Do remember that standard rules of social etiquette may apply. For example, please don't use Twitter for shameless self-promotion. As you get connected to more people, it's easy to get into the "tweeting" groove, but don't forget that distance can sometimes make the heart grow fonder. In other words, you don't have to tweet more than a few times a day to stay connected. Pick a few tweets and save everything else for conversations with real people.

Concerned you'll be overwhelmed if you sign up? Don't let Walker's song scare you off. One of the best things about Twitter: you can always tune it out. Just start small by checking Twitter a couple times a day and go from there. After all, what is there to lose?

19 September 2008

Can You Cheat The Social Media System?

Word of mouth has long been a good marketing tool. In the social media world, however, the stakes change. Online, one person can influence thousands, even millions of people. Traditional word of mouth embodies a viral, yet transient spirit. By contrast, comments made online can live forever.

So, what's to stop people from cheating the "social media system"?

Yesterday, my friend and colleague blogged about how SourceForge, a premier online media site targeting techies, monitors the Web for negative customer comments. Using tools like Twitter and Facebook, Sourceforge will pursue disgruntled customers and users. The process has yielded positive feedback and provides Sourceforge with key product management and marketing feedback - a healthy example of customer service instigated by online feedback.

By contrast, other sites like Yelp, the popular review site, seem to be easily manipulated. Some of my friends have used Yelp to voice their anger over poor food service. In one case, a friend complained after going to a restaurant's Grand Opening and waiting for more than an hour for her meal. She wrote a negative review, posted it to Yelp, and the restaurant immediately contacted her offering a free meal.

Couldn't I choose a random restaurant I've been wanting to try, do the same thing and reap the benefits?

What about online competitor bashing? If I were AT&T, what would stop me from asking my employees to throttle ComcastCares on Twitter under the guise of an online alias?

Robin Stavinsky, high tech PR and online communications specialist, has assured me that online fraud in the form of competitor bashing would never work because there are too many ways to track down the source.

I remain skeptical. No matter how altruistic I'd like to be, why not test out being a professional online whiner to see what benefits (or punishments) I might reap? Wouldn't you?

18 September 2008

San Diego Zoo Creates Panda-monium With Social Media Tools

As a San Diego native, I've been a card-carrying member of the "World Famous" San Diego Zoo my whole life. The 100-acre park is home to more than 4,000 rare and endangered animals and more than 700,000 exotic plants. The Zoological Society of San Diego is actually the largest zoological membership association in the world.

If you've visited the San Diego Zoo, you probably understand the international allure. I have to believe the zoo owes part of its success to its communications department.

Take the pandas, for example. Pandas are not easy to get a hold of. U.S. zoos must "rent" pandas from the Chinese government - they typically go for $1M a year and at least $500K more if they breed. This is not including food and shelter. All pandas remain property of China and must return eventually.

Fifteen years ago, the San Diego Zoo built a $1M panda facility only to have their import permit denied. What could have been a PR nightmare ($1M burned for nothing) was instead turned into a story of national struggle and unconditional hope.

When San Diego finally welcomed two pandas (female Bai Yun, male Shi Shi) to the zoo, it went to town with PR. The zoo played up Shi Shi's "old man" impotency and the urgency for him to mate before the "contract" expired. The birth of baby cub Hua Mei (means "China, USA") in August 1999 spurred even more public interest. At that point, the zoo made a brilliant decision and launched the "Panda Cam," a live online video feed capturing 24/7 panda activity.

The Panda Cam was an instant hit. If you watch the Panda Cam today, however, you'll notice pandas, for the most part, don't do much.

From a San Diego Union Tribune article (Dec. 15, 2001):

The debut of the Panda Cam in effect "made" the zoo's Web site, acknowledged spokesman Ted Molter.

"There were more people online than ever before, always looking for new things to see," he said.

... The fact that the pandas don't do much but eat and sleep in no way diminished their online popularity. If anything, it was a blessing from a public relations and marketing perspective, Molter conceded.

Since Panda Cam went online in September 1999, about a month after Hua Mei was born, more than 78 million people ... have visited the zoo's Web site, said Inigo Figuracion, the zoo's webmaster. Of those, more than 21 million people -- about 27 percent overall -- clicked onto the Panda Cam.

Today, while other U.S. zoos struggle to attract visitors and financially support their $1M/year pandas, the San Diego Zoo's Giant Panda Research Station is saturated with visitors. Even better, their website is now rich with social media tools, offering podcasts, zoo keeper blogs, animal videos and virtual tours of the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.

In 1999, the San Diego Zoo earned its status as a "virtual zoo" basically overnight. In December 2001, the zoo introduced the Polar Cam for two cubs at Polar Bear Plunge.

I'd be interested to research how attendance and online traffic have fared since 2001. Also, how have the Panda and Polar Cams affected corporate and private donations made to the San Diego Zoological Society? What about sales of plush pandas and polar bear t-shirts? I'm sure revenues skyrocketed - they probably haven't tapered, either.

If you're in the San Diego area, I absolutely recommend you visit the San Diego Zoo. They're working on a new exhibit to house elephants recently rescued from Africa.

Who knows, maybe we'll have an "Elephant Cam" soon, too. Stay tuned...

17 September 2008

Poor Marketing for Dale Chihuly at the De Young?

If you're in San Francisco this month and looking for an awesome art exhibit, I recommend heading over to Golden Gate Park to check out the Dale Chihuly show at the De Young Museum through Sept. 28.

As you walk through the exhibition, be prepared to experience the awesome dynamism Chihuly creates with static glass and vibrant color. Oh, but don't expect to learn anything useful – I would pretend its a minimalist exhibit. Focus on the art itself, don't read the wall placards.

I've reviewed, designed and installed art shows in the past, so I understand techniques for presenting art to the public. As I walked through the Chihuly show, I couldn't help but lament how the curatorial staff chose NOT to fully address and draw in the general public. Is this a case of curatorial license or bad marketing?

I say bad marketing, and I'm not referring to poor advertising or marketing collateral. I'm talking about an opportunity to use a blockbuster exhibition to market the De Young as a leading institution in its field, and the failure to do so.

A few things I would have liked to see:

Interactive analysis of glass as a medium
When people think about art, they don't often think about glass. What other artists have influenced Chihuly (ahem - Venetian glass blowers) and how has this medium changed over time? Add video touch-screens for additional exploration.

Educational video demonstrating how Chihuly creates glass art
Link the dynamism of each Chihuly glass piece to the motions his body enacts in order to create grand masterpieces from such a fragile and volatile medium.

Comprehensive view of Chihuly's life linking paintings to glass work
When you walk through the exhibition, two different walls are covered by Chihuly paintings. In both cases, the surrounding placards hardly elaborate. Even worse, wall placards supposedly providing context for Chihuly's life left me confused - more than one bad analogy to volcanic lava and Persians.

In Art History 1 class at Stanford, we learned to look at the art museum as a scientific institution dedicated to the preservation, analysis and dissection of art. In my opinion, the De Young's Chihuly show didn't do justice to glass as an artform, nor did it serve its scientific and educational purpose for society.

I think the curators missed an incredible marketing opportunity to reach new audiences and get people excited about art, color and glass. The De Young fell short of making a lasting impression on me as a museum - I wanted to see an institution enveloping contemporary modes of communication and transcending art itself.

Despite bad marketing, Chihuly's work remains astounding and the show is worth the $15. If you're hoping for anything more than pretty glass, though, you might be disappointed.

15 September 2008

Everyone Needs a Publicist - Why I Have a Real Job

Since beginning my career in high tech PR, I have come to strongly believe that everyone needs a publicist. PR Agent, PR Chick, PR Specialist - titles are negotiable. Of course, not everyone will support my thesis. In fact, many wouldn't. Last Friday, ReadWriteWeb questioned the need for Tech PR in a post, "Does Good Tech Need PR?" The argument for tech bloggers is they prefer to discover new technologies on their own. Steve Rubel testifies: "If I didn't find it on my own or stumble upon it early myself, I don't bother. I actually like the thrill of the chase and serendipity. I want to be first."

Robert Scoble is even more vehement against PR.

Okay guys, we get it. You want to write about news that strokes your ego. Something you've hunted and killed. Bloggers by nature DO NOT have to be objective, so you have a free pass to write about whatever you deem newsworthy.

But why, then, does Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW land on YES, good tech can benefit from good PR?

Let me get personal for a second. When people ask about my job the tagline I offer is: "I work for a high tech public relations firm with a client base of early stage high tech startups." Straightforward, right? Heh. Nine times out of then, I've lost people at the mention of "high tech" (even in Silicon Valley!). Then, in my urge to clarify, I make the common mistake of jumping into far more detail than necessary only to catch myself minutes later entertaining blank stares and an audience politely nodding heads while exclaiming, "Wow, that's interesting!" Yeah right...

That's when I realize yet again - everyone needs a PR person. Why? Well, for starters, we're all too close to what we do to step back and present it clearly. Terms we use everyday and think common might sound like gibberish (at best) to a fresh ear. When I try to explain PR I forget that no one actually wants to hear the nitty gritty details of what I (or my clients) do day-to-day, and how each moment fits under the umbrella term of "public relations," "log management," or "desktop virtualization." In fact, I believe my friends want to hear exactly the opposite - only the minimum amount of detail required to categorize, understand and/or evaluate the person, product or service in question before moving on.

People don't have time to listen for hours about a product, service or offering. That's why we watch movie trailers before going to the theater, read the backs of novels before buying, and listen to the free iTunes sample before downloading the whole album. You can't expect a full investment without a demo and, when it comes to high tech companies, a demo isn't always a bad thing. What might be an awesome bug fix for a developer may mean nothing to a customer. By contrast, what was easy to hack, might be the best new feature ever. A good PR person will help you find that interesting anecdote for your audience.

The fact that many of the companies I work with are not easily discovered or understood at first glance doesn't mean they aren't newsworthy, innovative or disruptive. It often means they are complex with too many possible directions to pursue. And thus, they need help figuring out how to talk about themselves in a compelling and easy-to-follow way.

So, I feel vindicated - everyone needs a publicist, but not only good tech. Good PR people are the guys and gals who "step back" and identify the top themes that might help people (reporters, analysts, customers, partners, the "public") understand what they are hearing. Good PR people engage intellectually, then surface the story or attainable vision above the syslog stream. And, sure, there are bad PR people. There are bad every kind of people. Just think of the difference between McDonald's and Ruth's Chris Steak House with regards to quality of food and service. Then, apply that to any industry, including PR.

At the end of the day, bloggers clearly reserve the right to disdain the whole food service industry, but they still need to eat. And, beyond just one cool product or technology, when a group of people want to build a sustainable business, they incorporate PR real fast.