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?