By  on November 11, 2009

For the first time, J.C. Penney is staking out holiday turf on Facebook.

As part of its “Joy of Giving” marketing campaign, Penney’s is starting a virtual community on its Facebook page, enabling visitors to exchange stories about how they give joy, browse gifts and click through to, where they can purchase presents online. Designed by T3, an Austin, Tex.-based digital marketing agency, the online destination was to go live Tuesday.

In a preview of the holiday network, gift givers spotlighted in photos of themselves on red gift tags — suggesting they are giving of themselves — have posted responses to the question: “How do you give joy?” Answers run from “I surprise my wife by cleaning the house” to “baking my chocolate chip cookie recipe for all my friends” and “volunteering to read for the blind.”

The department store chain’s new outpost in the social media network will signal its willingness to “engage and interact with customers on their own terms,” Penney’s spokesman Kate Coultas said of the Facebook page, which counts 568,000 people as fans.

Visitors in search of gift ideas for their Facebook friends can enter the person’s name in a Gift Guru search engine, and ideas will be recommended for them.

“The potential is there for sparking shoppers via social media,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys. “The heart of it is, you have to have something to say.” General messages like “We’re here,” or “We have clothes,” or “Celebrities wear our clothes” are usually ineffective, Passikoff noted. “Calls to action are tending to be more design- and situation-driven, like people buzzing about a vampire wearing a necklace they like,” he added.

Among the gifts featured in the Penney’s Facebook preview were a countertop kettle popcorn maker ($99.99), a Sharper Image U Video camera with 2-inch LCD screen ($49.99) and The Beatles edition of Trivial Pursuit ($29.99). These things are part of the store’s 58-item Red Box Gift collection, spotlighting offbeat finds in Penney’s catalogue, online and at the stores.

Shoppers will also be able to upload their tales of joy to through a new mobile phone wireless application protocol site, designed by Razorfish. The wireless site can also be used to browse Penney’s gift merchandise, view sale items in the most recent weekend ad circular, and find the nearest Penney’s to their location or in a particular city.

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