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Scion PR offers a glimpse into social marketing

Why bother with the press release when you have Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr at hand and your target market is tech-savvy?

Scion xB RS 6.0, shown in Detroit this week.
Scion xB RS 6.0, shown in Detroit this week. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

Wondering who that mysterious new Flickr contact is with all the slick product photos? Maybe it's a viral marketer.

That's what happened to Illuminata analyst and CNET blogger Gordon Haff earlier this week when Scion xB RS 6.0 added him as a Flickr contact. I thought it might be a marketing move, given that the Detroit auto show was under way, and indeed a little digging showed that to be the case.

"We are promoting the new Scion xB Release Series 6.0 vehicle online through a variety of social media avenues," said Kat Kirsch of Formula PR, which was involved with the campaign. Because the car has a lot of visual features, trying to reach "tech/online aficionados" on Flickr was one element of the campaign.

Of course, Yahoo's photo-sharing site wasn't the only part of the process. "We uploaded the first photos of the new car on Flickr and linked those to our micro site. We also Twittered about the car and photos and reached out to some of the key online Scion influencers. From there it expanded to the Scion Facebook fan page and Scion message boards like ScionLife as people started to spread the news."

Her firm isn't the first to try to use the Internet's social fabric and related viral marketing possibilities for promotion, but it does provide a glimpse into how it works. As the Internet grows ever more ubiquitous, companies get more alternatives to traditional media outlets for disseminating information and reaching customers.

Word of mouth and its online equivalent can be a powerful communication mechanism, because people listen to their friends in a way they don't listen to traditional media.