Amex Talks Facebook, Foursquare, and SMBs

headshot-jfajgenbaumAmerican Express launched in 1850 and quickly became a mail delivery powerhouse before evolving into a financial juggernaut decades later. With that pedigree, perhaps it’s not surprising that Amex today still makes waves in the messaging game, most recently via social media.

Few consumer brands have a tighter relationship with Facebook than does the credit card marketer. For instance, the New York-based company is running a contest this spring and summer called “Facebook Big Break for Small Business,” giving small businesses the chance to win $20,000 cash and a trip to Facebook’s headquarters. Five winners will fly to Palo Alto, CA, where they can attend a “boot camp” on Facebook advertising and marketing. In addition, 10 runners-up will win a $2,500 credit for Facebook Ads.

And Amex has recently partnered with geo-social players Foursquare and Scvngr. For the latter, its payment procurement system is enabling Scvngr’s “LevelUp” deals subscribers to redeem offers at Levi’s stores without showing the clerk a paper voucher, barcode, or message on a mobile screen.

Because of the robust activity, ClickZ News sat down with Amex VP Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum for a Q&A focused on what SMBs can do in social media. Here are excerpts from the conversation:

ClickZ: American Express has a strategic and fairly deep relationship with Facebook. Can you describe how it has evolved?

Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum: We are working with them on a number of things. Our big initiative last year, of course, was “Small Business Saturday.” It was a movement to help drive consumers to small businesses. The No. 1 need of small business owners is to find new customers, and we wanted to make sure there was a shopping day dedicated to small businesses. When we were beginning the movement, we asked ourselves where to start this. And of course, we decided that Facebook was a place where like-minded people could gather around this cause… Of course, small business are an important part of [Facebook’s] business as well.

CZ: How can the “boot camp” contest help small businesses?

JBF: What we have found most useful for business owners is when we get really tactical. So we get very specific on steps to implement right away for your business, whether it’s Places or Deals or beyond Facebook social media tools to grow your business… There will be videos of what the [contest winners] end up learning at Facebook. That will be helpful to business owners…to learn what they did, what worked for them, what didn’t.

CZ: Part of the pitch is to get small businesses to apply for an Amex Plum credit card, correct?

JBF: What I’d say is that we do a lot of things in [branded SMB community initiative] Open Forum to help small businesses. Programs like “Small Business Saturday,” our government procurement program where we help business owners get contracts with the federal government…all of these things fall under the same category of helping business do more business. So of course we always like new customers, but I wouldn’t think of that in the same context.

CZ: Why is Facebook a good platform to target business owners compared to Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social site?

JBF: I would say they all are good sites, but Facebook is a good place to start. One of the reasons is lot of businesses owners we talk to are on Facebook for themselves, for their personal lives. So they are used to the interface and how it works…Another reason is because small business owners’ customers are on Facebook.

CZ: Amex runs a lot of Facebook Ads. What has your team learned?

JBF: We find digital advertising to be generally effective, and we have found Facebook Ads to have good targeting.

CZ: What else is Amex doing with social media?

JBF: We have the Open Forum Twitter handle. We have the Open Forum Facebook Page and the “Small Business Saturday” Facebook Page. With those, we engage small business owners and small business enthusiasts with topics that are relevant to them. For instance, it might be “10 Tips for Using Twitter for Your Small Business.”

CZ: You did a South by Southwest campaign with Foursquare. Was that for SMBs, or was it a consumer marketing play?

JBF: It was definitely for small businesses. Austin, Texas small businesses could sign up to do deals through Foursquare that American Express card members could access by registering their card on Foursquare… The local business owners were very excited about it because it gave consumers a reason to walk through the door.

CZ: How important is location-based marketing, in the eyes of Amex?

JBF: Certainly for small business, I think location-based is huge. We are seeing more and more that location-based deals are a way to get consumers – who are heading down the street towards their large retailer – to stop and head into the smaller retailer. As much as discounts offer value, I think small business owners are just taking advantage of being on those maps, whether it’s Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook Places. All of a sudden, consumers who wouldn’t have thought of them are finding the small businesses in their pathway.

CZ: Visa is testing its own location-based program, partnering with retailer Gap in a program that began during the holiday season. Does Amex have plans to launch a location-based platform?

JBF: I can’t comment on future stuff, sorry.

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