With nearly 700,000 Twitter followers and 33,500 YouTube subscribers, American Express stands out amongst other financial service companies in terms of social media. Ellie Chambers asks Stacy Gratz, vice president for international digital partnerships and social media strategy: what’s AmEx’s secret?
Open American Express’ Facebook page and near the top of the news feed is a post reading “This evening, give 2013 the send off it deserves. Wishing you all a Happy New Year in 2014.”
On the face of it, the post looks like a typical throwaway by a corporate giant and sure enough, the uppermost comment reads: “Are people actually wishing American Express a happy new year? World’s gone mad.”
6 people have liked this comment to show their approval, but based on the likes and shares on AmEx’s post itself, over 4,500 people disagree with them.
A numbers game
It is rare that a financial services company inspires such a large social media following.
By comparison, card networks Visa and MasterCard have respectively under 150,000 and 93,000 Twitter followers for their main Twitter handles.
A similar story can be seen on YouTube, where AmEx has two channels, one with nearly 22,500 subscribers and another with just over 11,000.
Visa and MasterCard’s channels have respectively almost 400 and just over 900 subscribers.
It’s true that the rival networks have more likes on Facebook, but in the world of social media a like is not comparable to a follow.
Whereas Facebook members have infinite likes to distribute and then forget about, a Twitter user following another is committing to seeing all their tweets.
Upstaging the competition
It is on YouTube that some of the reasons for AmEx’s social media success are almost immediately apparent.
While Visa and MasterCard’s channels feature mostly videos about finance and their products, AmEx’s second channel, AmEx Unstaged, is devoted almost entirely to music concerts and exclusive interviews with musicians.
Artists and groups from Sting to Vampire Weekend turn up, with appearances from actor-director Fred Armisen and a runway show by designer Rebecca Minkoff thrown in as well.
Compared to the bland videos on Visa and MasterCard’s channels, it’s not hard to see why AmEx picks up tens of thousands more subscribers.
Relevant or not, the content AmEx offers is something customers can engage with and want to watch – it’s not surprising that they’d rather see Fred Armisen talk to the Kings of Leon than watch a video on streamlining benefit distribution in Nebraska.
Stacy Gratz, VP for international digital partnerships and social media strategy, seems to understand the need to engage with customers in ways that aren’t always directly related to financial services.
She says: “We take a holistic approach to social media that includes a number of ways in which we engage with Cardmembers.”
Turning engagement into commerce
Although they don’t directly drive commerce, AmEx’s YouTube channels show it has a knack for identifying what customers want and delivering it effectively.
Its Facebook and Twitter feeds are littered with exclusive offers for cardholders and it is one of the companies leading the charge on social media payments.
Gratz says: “In 2011, we enabled Cardmembers to connect their Cards with social media platforms to seamlessly load and redeem couponless merchant offers.
“Based on the success and excitement around offers, we knew that conducting commerce via social was something in which both our Cardmembers and merchant partners see real value.
“And just last year we launched the ability for Cardmembers to purchase products on Twitter using hashtags.
“To be successful, the experience must be authentic to consumer behavior and native to the platform.”
Although Gratz isn’t specific on whether AmEx is exploring the platforms of Whatsapp, Snapchat and Vine favoured mostly by the younger generation, she agrees that financial services companies need to be quick off the mark and rule nothing out in their quest for a successful social media strategy.
She says: “Nailing the immediacy is key to social. It’s critical to move quickly, frequently and effectively.
“We’re constantly re-evaluating and re-imagining how to engage on our current channels and how to expand to new ones.”
At the center of marketing strategy
At its heart, a successful social media following is about not seeing it as a gimmick, but as an integral part of a businesses marketing strategy.
Go on some companies’ lacklustre social media sites and you get the distinct impression that they’d rather not be there, but feel they have to be.
Not so American Express. Gratz says: “Technology and social media are at the center of fulfilling our Cardmember, merchant and partner commitments.
“They allow us to connect and facilitate both experiences and commerce in social.
“So, with that in mind, it’s hard to think of a part of the company that doesn’t touch social media at some point.”