Social media strategy boosts American Express OPEN

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Chicago—Marcy Shinder, VP-brand strategy and marketing for American Express OPEN, Tuesday outlined how the company's embracing of social media has helped it drive marketing efficiency during the downturn. Shinder discussed American Express', a social media site created by the company, during a presentation at "2009 B-to-B Marketing in the New World," an Association of National Advertisers BtoB conference. The commitment to social media, she said, has enabled the company "to do more with less."

When asked about the cost advantages of social media techniques versus traditional media, Shinder said they cost “exponentially less,” and have the added benefit of providing more “pull” than “push” marketing.

OPENForum, which provides small-business owners with online content and tools intended to help them grow their businesses, supports the American Express brand, Shinder said. The site was created with a team of fewer than five people and at a fraction of the cost of other marketing initiatives, such as TV advertising, she said.

Indeed, she said Amex has scaled back its TV advertising, although she added that shifting from expensive TV executions to digital and social media channels “is not just about cost, it's about what people are responding to.”

American Express uses Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs to drive traffic to the site, which in addition to attracting small-business owners, has also drawn other marketers looking to reach that market. FedEx, for example, has become a paying sponsor of a segment of the site.

The site has become especially attractive as small-business owners try to navigate the recession, Shinder said. "We had something differentiated to say, we had influencers say it for us, and it drove explosive scale," said Shinder, whose own blog focuses on resilient business owners and offers practical financial and business tips.

American Express last month launched an updated, which includes portions of the site that are only available to cardholders. Although the site has generated three million page views since it launched last year, the social media site hasn't been an unqualified success, Shinder acknowledged. The chat room for small-business owners, for instance, didn't attract enough traffic, so American Express pulled the plug on that feature to focus on content.

Shinder also telegraphed a forthcoming online initiative, a portal called Pulse, which will aggregate different social media feeds, providing posts of interest to small-business owners.

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