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 App├ętit 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.