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With the holiday shopping season kicking off today, Nordstrom is trying a new social media campaign that lets Facebook and Twitter users send hints to family and friends about the gifts they want — from Nordstrom, of course — without the awkwardness of telling them directly.

The Seattle-based retailer’s “Nordstrom Santa” project is a Facebook app that will post a gift hint on the user’s Facebook wall, linking to a gift the person hopes to get.

The app can also send a message on Twitter to one of the user’s friends from the @NordstromSanta account — as in this tweet that it just sent to one of my friends: @johnhcook Ho ho ho! Psst, I know what @toddbishop wants this year! Take a peek:” (By the way, John, that was purely a test … although it is a very nice scarf.)

It’s a different spin on the holiday wish list concept, leveraging social media. Should be interesting to see how much participation the company gets, and whether it drives any noticeable increase in online engagement or sales.

To boost participation, the project also involves a sweepstakes, letting people enter for a chance to win a $500 Nordstrom Gift Card, with one winner chosen at random every day.

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