By Lauren Begley , PepperDigital, @LaurenBegley

Like many PR professionals, I found it a struggle to keep up with every latest and greatest social media platform, marketing best practice or slam-dunk communications campaign. Nearly two years ago, I began working with a group of other Peppercommers to form an agency Innovation Team. Collectively, we spend time each month trolling for best-of examples that we can share with our colleagues through our Innovation Mill newsletter.

As we approach the end of 2011, I wanted to share a compilation of some of the more interesting, creative and out-of-the-box examples using social and digital platforms over the past year. If you like what you see (or not), please post your feedback in the comments section or let us know if there are any other programs you think should have made the list.

If you’d like to join the Innovation Mill mailing list, please drop us a line at innovation@peppercom.com.

Neiman Marcus Combines an Online Game with a Memorable In-Store Experience

Earlier this year, high-end department store Neiman Marcus tapped into its social media community to launch a Foursquare challenge promoting its annual shoe and handbag sale. On a specific date, Nancy Gonzalez clutches were hidden at 15 stores. Visitors could check in to Foursquare where they would receive clues about their proximity to the coveted prizes. Those who found the bags got to keep the goods. We like this case study because it brings the hot topic of online gaming to life. Driving consumers into the retail outlets resulted in a strong level of online engagement that likely translated into in-store purchases. Talk about knowing your audience.

Mother’s “MomSpam” Mother’s Day Campaign

Just in time for Mother’s Day, a new website called “MomSpam” went live. The site allowed young people to send the type of emails mothers are known for sending (e.g. virus warning emails, pictures of funny cats, chain letters, etc.). Guests could select which spam they’d like to send to their mom in honor of the holiday. From the site, you have the option to share the link on Facebook and Twitter – at which point, you discover that the site was created by the agency Mother here in New York (get it?). Sneaky.

Coke Lets You Create Your Own Beverage Concoction

Remember when you were a kid and one of the best parts of visiting a fast food restaurant was being able to mix and match fountain sodas in one, large cup? A new Coca-Cola Facebook, iPhone and Android app lets adults relive those days by creating their own soda concoctions online. What’s more, Coke vending machines across the country will soon roll out offering the same feature. We prefer a little Cherry Coke mixed with Vanilla Coke. You?

Are You Hunkier Than Fabio?

Old Spice has done it again. The wildly successful ‘Old Spice Man’ campaign continues to engage audiences online. The company held a “hunk-off” that matched Isaiah Mustafa against the ultimate dreamboat, Fabio (settle down, ladies). Both personalities created original YouTube content and viewers were invited to grant points to their favorites. The 100+ videos tallied more than 22 million views and just as many swoons in one week.

The New York Public Library ‘Find the Future: The Game’

The New York Public Library, the first public library to launch a Foursquare badge, invited 500 people to compete in a smartphone-based challenge for a library game night. “Find the Future: The Game” was a series of “quests” delivered via an app on players’ mobile devices that can be completed at the Library’s 42nd Street location. Players tackled a list of 100 overnight challenges designed to encourage players to explore and reflect upon the objects from the library’s collections. A player might have been tasked, for instance, to scan a QR code located at the Declaration of Independence, and then respond to a creative essay prompt. Once enough quests were completed, they were “unlocked” for the public, who could begin playing the game online after the exclusive launch. Who knew a library could lead to such an adventure?

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An interview with Richard Ouyang, originally posted for PR News.

Let’s face it—everyone is digital and moving to mobile, so PR pros will eventually have to know how to develop mobile app concepts so they can think bigger about what to create. Richard Ouyang, associate director of digital strategies at Peppercom Digital offers here—in no particular order—the top 10 reasons why PR pros should learn about mobile application development.

1. Know good UX: Know what a good user experience is when it comes to how people interact with an app—there’s a science to design and flow.

2. Workflow logic: There’s a logic to apps that applies to business objectives, which in turn applies to app functionality.

3. Simplification: PR pros need to wrap their arms around how people consume information—people read headlines and look at pictures. Too much or too little information can be the difference between success and failure.

4. Know how it works, really: When it comes to all things digital, PR pros often have good ideas, but don’t think through how it comes to life. Understanding technical execution helps ensure your idea comes to life.

5. Connection to everything: Information is pulled from somewhere to appear on your phone. Understand how mobile connects to a Web site and how information is passed to apps and devices. It helps you give people what they want, faster.

6. Devices and software: iPhone? iPad? Nexus? Galaxy? Android? Honeycomb? Understand the implications of devices people use to access the app.

7. Features—what does it do again?: Understand what’s possible with mobile apps. Ask yourself what this app should do. For example, do you know how push notifications work with geolocation and Google Maps?

8. Definitions and process: Understanding mobile app development also means you understand platforms, operating systems and processes—like how long it takes to get into the iTunes app store or Android market.

9. Latest and greatest: Mobile apps are constantly updated, so keep your finger on the pulse.

10. You’re a user: As PR pros, we use mobile apps. It helps you understand the difference between a compelling app and an app that has no long-term value.

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By Richard Ouyang, PepperDigital

The FoodBankNYC recently announced an innovative partnership with FedEx, working through Facebook. Every time you “like” the FoodBankNYC Facebook page through the month of February, FedEx provides five meals. A couple actions grabbed my attention and struck me as out of the box.

First, typically brands try to get more fans to their own pages, rather than support the growth of someone else’s page.  I found it refreshing that a large corporate brand like FedEx was actually helping grow a nonprofit partner’s Facebook presence by imparting knowledge from their own learning curve in the social media space.

Second, the way “likes” are quantified to tangible meals helps people, and forgive the pun, sink their teeth into an action tied to a response. No doubt FoodBankNYC has cost per person down to a number, so five meals equals a specific dollar value.

Not only does this program reflect a new approach to using Facebook for CSR or nonprofit partnerships, but also reflects nonprofits getting more savvy about social media and corporate partnerships.  Nonprofits are stretched for a lot of reasons, but availability to free online tools is not one of them.  As the younger workforce gathers work experience, their smarts in social media (more from practical use of staying in touch with friends) brings the knowledge of the Web up a notch to organizations that can use them most.

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