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?