The Web's latest social media darling, Chatroulette, is already getting attention from brands.
Travelocity is running a pilot program on the live video chat site that serves up its Roaming Gnome brand icon to random chatters. The gnome holds a sign encouraging chatters to consider taking trips. The idea is that folks sitting around video-chatting with strangers could use the excitement of travel.
Chatroulette, which launched last November, has risen to Internet prominence in recent weeks. The site, created by 17-year-old Russian Andrey Ternovskiy, lets users activate their Webcams to randomly chat with strangers. It's quickly become known for the wacky and odd, along with the frequent instances of lewd behavior. A segment on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show cemented its position in the cultural zeitgeist.
Travelocity is not the first brand to appear on Chatroulette. French Connection earlier this month ran a contest using the service.
Chatroulette's audience is still small, but growing quickly. According to comScore, Chatroulette drew 960,000 U.S. visitors in February, up from 109,000 in January.
The gnome first appeared on Chatroulette last Thursday. He holds up different signs, such as one reading, "This would be better if we were in Rio." At various times during the day, a staffer from Travelocity agency McKinney engages in short chats with users on the service. The staffer "nexts" those engaging in inappropriate behavior.
"If we run across that type of person, we're not going to engage with him," said Travelocity rep Joel Frey. "We'll leave it at that. It's something that's a concern with a new and different form like this. As long as we're being disciplined, we can overcome that and keep it to conversations with people who should be thinking about trips."
Travelocity plans to continue its presence on the site for another week, then evaluate the results. So far, Frey said the brand has been mostly well received. Some chats have lasted as long as five minutes, according to McKinney. The shop is not tracking any specific measurements yet.
The gnome is no stranger to social media. He anchors the Travelocity presence on Facebook, boasting 52,000 fans.
On Twitter, the the gnome has 8,000 followers.