How American Express Found Its Social Media Groove
American Express went from virtually zero social media presence in 2009 to being hailed by Advertising Age as the “real winner” at South By Southwest this year.
How did AmEx do it? Leslie Berland, SVP of digital partnerships and development at the company, attempted to retrace the brand’s steps during a talk at Mashable Connect, and then dispensed a few social media tips on Friday.
Berland highlighted two major inflection points in AmEx’s social media marketing history: its introduction of Small Business Saturday and its promotion of Sync at SXSW. The former started with a “lofty goal,” which was to “start a movement,” Berland said.
Launched in 2010, Small Business Saturday was designed as a response of sorts to Black Friday, which comes the day before. The idea is to motivate consumers already in shopping mode to spend their cash at their local mom and pops. Berland says her aha moment with the program was realizing that it was a great fit on Facebook, where the SBS Page drew 1 million fans in three weeks. (It now has 2.8 million fans.)
That’s a respectable showing considering the brand only began focusing on social media in 2009, when it set up AmEx’s first Twitter account. Berland recalls that it took three weeks to come up with the account’s first tweet. No wonder she likens getting a large brand on social media to giving birth.
Berland’s coup de grace was this year’s SXSW promotion for AmEx Sync‘s Twitter tie-in, which appears to have captured the hearts and minds of much of the event’s attendees.
The effort, which introduced a program that offers cardmembers discounts for tweeting advertised hashtags, began before SXSWers even arrived. Berland secured 30 minutes of free Wi-Fi from GoGo to 80% to 90% of the flights to Austin, Texas, that included a plug for Sync. Then, once in Austin, AmEx offered 700 tickets to its Jay-Z concert. The concert became a major draw at the show, an outcome that reflects Jay-Z’s popularity as well as AmEx’s exacting standards as an entertainment partner. As Berland recalls, there was a long list of potential concert draws, but the brand was seeking someone who was both hip with the local crowd and popular nationally. (Justin Bieber was among those who didn’t make the cut.)
Though Berland’s talk included some trite advice (“Think like a startup”), she was more candid in her Q&A with the audience. When one attendee challenged her about her statement that “90% of our strategy is defined by the things we don’t do,” Berland said she meant, for instance, that it’s wise to resist the pressure to embrace all formats. “What I’m often challenged with often is a lot of ‘I want this, we want that’” she said, referring to internal pressure. However, “It’s not a ‘build it they will come,’ thing.”
Berland also said it doesn’t make sense to back a Facebook campaign with traditional media like print and TV ads. “If you’re running a program on Facebook, buy ads on Facebook.”
The contents of each bag given to Mashable Connect attendees.
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