Upon examining the American Express social strategy, I was struck how the 167 year old company understands the wants and needs of both consumer and merchant in the digital age. They treat their space in the marketplace as a cocktail party, and I’ll explain how.
First of all, at any party, you want to feel like you’re special and that you belong. American Express has accomplished this from day one, even before the days of digital. As a cardholder, you’re a “member”. Your card displays the year you joined. It gives the cardholder a feeling of exclusivity, just like an exclusive club. (If you have an AmEx card, cancel, then rejoin years later, they’ll backdate your membership to the year you originally joined, because they know that’s what members of a club prefer.) At parties, people tend to share pictures. On American Express’s Twitter page, people share “card art”, pictures of American Express cards they have designed.
Second, as the “host” of a closed loop processing system, American Express knows all about you the consumer as well as the merchant. They have access to a treasure trove of data that other credit card processors simply don’t possess. As any good party host does, American Express uses proprietary API’s to match consumers and merchants and vice versa.
Third, as anyone at a cocktail party knows, the annoying people who spend the entire time talking about themselves are to be avoided. Far too many companies exploit social media for these purposes. (Yet another marketing platform on which to broadcast our irritating message!) American Express, however, deftly models its social strategy on the fact that it’s members are part of a true community. Through initiatives such as OPEN Forum for small business as well as cardholder platforms like Members Project and Members Know, American Express has created a global brand that is much more than a credit card. It has become a community in which to share ideas for cause-related projects, a travel resource for like minded consumers, as well as an advocate for small business in an Amazon world.
We all the appreciate the people at the cocktail party who offer help if they casually overhear that we could use it. Social is about listening more than talking, after all. We gravitate towards the people who like the same things we do and believe in the same causes. American Express has subtly built a social framework that encompasses all of these avenues, but does so in a profitable, unobtrusive way.
Membership has its privileges, indeed.