Amex: members project case study

On March 29, at Blogwell, I attended that presentation by Pepper Roukas, American Express on the members project campaign

Amex has focused a lot about brand management on social media, but this particular business case is about how to drive business through social media.

Amex actually invented the term “cause marketing” with its restoration programme of the statue of Liberty in 1983 and many others in 93, 2003 an 2007 with the members project.

The questions was how to create a differentiated cause-campaign? The answer to that question was to educate consumers that small steps can make a big difference in their communities and provide the enablement tools.

Fish where the fish are

Facebook was the place where Amex’s fans were, so Amex used it as the main starting point.  The focus was on more engagement with members, sharing content and initiate dialogues. Members were encouraged to volunteer and earn membership points and donate them. Amex therefore helped people support their favourite charities.

Donations could be done straight from the card or by transferring membership points.

Wall postings

Wall postings were personalised by members, posting photos (right) but also videos. more videos were used by members than ever before. A number of apps were developed with which people could share their stories. The campaign was carried away in 360 format with on-air TV commercials and charity-themed sweepstakes. A partnership was set up with the Glee TV series.

All other social media channels owned by Amex were used to relay the campaign too.


  • increased brand relevancy and appraisal, namely with young people
  • more engaging content
  • listening and being more responsive
  • learn, experiment and iterate quickly
  • giving the community a role to foster advocacy

Sabre holdings: the great community race

On March 29 I attended Sabre’s presentation at Blogwell in NYC.

a presentation by Susan Via, Manager Community Marketing and Engagement & Lorie Robinson, Product Marketing, Sabre holdings

Sabre is a major player in the airline reservation industry. Passenger reservations, cruise schedules etc. Some years ago, Sabre went on to embark on a community programme. There is a Sabre community portal, password-protected and a hub, which is Sabre’s Facebook-like business networking portal. The hub is a tool that Sabre’s customers had asked for. The objective was to increase employee engagement to improve customer experience. Yet, some of the engagement they got from employees was not always up to scratch.

This is why Sabre took a step back and launched the Great Community Race! The races stretched over a period of 3 months.  A minimum of 3 tasks were assigned to each team. Bonus points were granted and at the end a judge awarded prizes. The aim was to get over the “I don’t have time to do that” syndrome.

The result was pleasantly surprising. Some teams had given themselves  names, and the sense of competition and camaraderie was high. 4 awards were granted: 1) highest cumulative score 2) product suite with highest score 3) team with high score (not highest) but consistent approach 4) teams new to community

The result is seen by the team as an overall success:

  • 23 teams fully engaged
  • above 3,000 portal content items published and created
  • average blog posts/ month up 573%
  • portal accounts increased by 7%
  • hub accounts increased 9%

Lessons learned

  • having fun is useful in that process
  • so is Executive involvement
  • assigned tasks was appreciated
  • Sabre thinks they should have done this even earlier
  • it’s not a one-for-one return (“because we engage more doesn’t mean customers will”)

some of the next steps include:

  • community certification programme
  • strengthening of community interaction to increase sales’ understanding and participation
  • develop detailed external social media plan in order to decide how to best use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other tools.
  • the race ended recently, and the Sabre team wishes to move forward with was is going to be next.

Andy Sernovitz: “large companies getting into social media need support and SMBC was the missing piece in that puzzle”

Last week, I was attending the Blogwell and SMBC meetings in Philadelphia. I also had an opportunity to sit with Andy Sernovitz, the founder of SMBC and well known author of the Word of Mouth Marketing opus.

It’s now more than 2 1/2 years since I joined the former blogcouncil, now known as Social Media Business Council, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge. I thought, as Hervé Kabla and myself – co-founders of Media Aces in France – are currently finalising our book entitled ‘Social Media Taught to My Boss’ (in French, but I’m open to suggestions from publishers), that it would be a great idea to sit with Andy and review the history and principles of SMBC as well as take a bit of hindsight and see how things had developed over the years. It’s hard to describe but spending 3 years of field practice in Social Media for a large company implies that a lot of work and effort has been put into these initiatives. Sometimes it’s good to put down one’s tools and muse.

Andy keeps repeating that doing Social Media for large groups is not as easy as doing the same for an individual or a small shop. I know that many people must not believe that this is true. « You are a big brand hence it’s way too easy » a lot of people must think. Yet nothing has ever been more true. Innovating within a large enterprise is a never-ending, groundhod day-like heavy-lifting exercise. This is why SMBC is important. It enables the heads of Social Media like us to get together, to help each other and to learn from one another. This is what Andy is referring to as being the « missing piece in the puzzle ».

And this is also why there are now more than 150 members within SMBC. Hats off Andy!

here are some of the 150 members of SMBC as of now …

SMBC’s Bob Pearson: “Social Media is not for geeks, it is about direct conversations with your customers” (unabridged)

important notice: this is the unabridged version of an article which was originally published on the Sterling Performance blog by

Bob Pearson, has just been appointed President of the newly rebranded Social Media Business Council (*) after a successful stint as Vice President, Communities and Conversations at Dell. Bob has been kind enough to agree to answer our few questions on behalf of our BNET readers. My focus in this interview will be on Bob Pearson’s experience, how he plans to use it in his new role, and about his plans for the expansion of the Social Media Business Council.

BNET: you successfully deployed social media initiatives on behalf of a worldwide high-tech company. Is social media only for geeks?

BP: No, social media is about having a conversation directly with your customers. It’s so important that companies take time to see the value in building a long-term relationship with their customers via social media. Many of the initial ideas may have started with “geeks”, who I certainly appreciate, but we live in a world today that has over 1.6 billion people online and more than 500,000 new people going online everyday for the first time in their lives. Social media is becoming mainstream for customers today and should start to become so for companies in the near future.

BNET: what are in your eyes and based on your experience the top three benefits which you, your previous employer and your clients derived from these social media initiatives?

BP: There are many benefits for companies, but gaining ideas, co-shaping your brand and unlocking the value of employees are certainly three important ones.

Social media provides an amazing window into how customers think and what they want. For example, why conduct a focus group with 10 people in a single location when you can build an idea community, ala Dell or Starbucks and receive thousands of ideas and listen to customers discuss them over months? For companies, it’s also important to co-shape your brand and reputation with your customers online. If you conduct strong analytics and you know where your products are being reviewed, you’ll find that a large brand may have as many as 5,000 conversations about itself every day. Ask yourself how many of those conversations you’re participating in or knowledgable of? If you’re not, you’re outsourcing your brand. Powerful thought.

I’ve also seen how social media inside a company enables employees to share their thinking and, quite frankly, let you know if they agree with the direction of the company via their comments or, in some cases, their silence.

BNET: what were the three main successful drivers behind your successful implementation of social media?

BP: I’ve heard people say “make the R small and the I big in ROI”. I like that advice. Social media does not have to cost a lot of money to try. What you need are some courage and a willingness to engage directly with your customers. I like asking people “how many customers do you actually speak with every day”? For too many people in companies, the answer is zero.

Here are three key drivers: #1 – know where conversations are occurring about your brand #2 – have clear rules of the road in how you will conduct social media, including an online policy and #3 – realize that customers want to hear from you, they do not want to hear from “the company”, so personalize your approach. The new formula is “Brand + Personality”.

BNET: how big and how successful is the Blog Council and what sort of a club is it?

BP: Social media is becoming a new discipline within companies that impacts all employees and all departments. As a result, it’s very important for leaders in social media to have a private place to share best practices and learn from each other in real time. There is no better person to learn from then a peer who is figuring out the same thing in a different industry.

The result is the formation of the Blog Council, which now has 60 of the world’s leading brands as members, such as Orange, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Intel, Microsoft and Coca Cola.

BNET: are all companies entitled to join the blog Council, or do they have to meet certain criteria?

BP: The Blog Council is for larger companies, generally over 5,000 employees. The key is that members are actively seeking to improve in social media. We want members who want to learn by asking their peers questions, share ideas and do it all in an “ego-less” environment.

BNET: what are your plans for the development of the Blog Council? Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers? A scoop maybe?

BP: Well, it’s fair to say that our name was ready for a change. In fact, we just changed our name to the Social Media Business Council and you can find us at

BNET: some of the “bloggers blogging about bloggers” to put it in the words of Andy Sernovitz are sometimes critical of the blog Council, what would you like to say to them?

BP: We welcome everyone’s opinion. We’re focused on building social media as a discipline and helping our members achieve success. It’s all about the conversation and we hope everyone will share how they think we can do better (as an organization and for our members).

BNET: there has been points made by Forrester’s Josh Bernoff and also Seth Godin (in his Meatball Sundae opus) that social media wasn’t for all big companies. What is your opinion about that?

BP: I respect the body of work of both Josh and Seth very much, but I could not disagree more with this particular comment. Social media is for every company that wants to improve how it interacts with its employees and its customers. Internally, a company has a major opportunity to unlock intellectual capital of its employees or gain their ideas more quickly to improve products. Externally, we are scratching the surface on how we can empower customers. Imagine opening up new B2B channels between major companies to communicate more effectively, for example.

I’ve worked inside three Fortune 500 companies and have met with many others, so I’m quite sure of the opportunity ahead of us for companies of all sizes.

BNET: Is the blog Council only about corporate blogging or does it cover a much broader spectrum?

BP: The Blog Council is about social media and how it is utilized to improve communications with employees and customers. Social media represents the most direct way to have a conversation and, in many respects, the most powerful way to learn, share and build relationships. The leading companies of the world are embracing social media and learning how to utilize it effectively. Not every company understands the significance of social media today, but that’s normal for any transformation. They will with time.

Thanks Bob for answering our questions very openly. Our Bnet readers interested in knowing more about the the Social Media Business Council can connect to

(*) note: For the sake of disclosure, it needs to be pointed out that the author is also a member of the Social Media Business Council in which he is the Orange representative.

Blogcouncil is dead, long live Social Media Business Council!

Of course, we knew already about it, but it’s been made public only recently that the late Blog Council has changed its name to Social Media Business Council (aka SMBC). We are very pleased to be able to relay that information (note: I am a proud member of smbc) and we wish our friend Bob (picture below) and the whole council a lot of successful un-conferences and blogwell meetings.

The aim of the name change is I believe obvious, that is to say to send a clear message to the business community – and the social media community – that social media isn’t just about Corporate blogging, it’s about a much broader range of subjects and tools including micro-blogging, social networking and others. This however – I can almost hear a few giggles here and there – that Corporate blogging is over and that we made a mistake by promoting Corporate blogging. Nothing could be more false. It means that Corporate blogging is one of the tools – and a powerful one at that – and that it cannot stand on its own without a few others on the side.

For your benefit, here’s the press announcement made by the Blog C… sorry, the Social Media Business Council 😉

Blog Council becomes the Social Media Business Council, moves to
Posted by on June 30, 2009
Big news from all of us here at GasPedal and the newly renamed Blog Council: Our community for social media leaders at large companies has officially changed its name to the Social Media Business Council and has moved from to Here’s the press release with more details:
Chicago, IL — The Blog Council, a community of social media leaders at large companies, has officially changed its name to the Social Media Business Council and will call its new online home.
“Every day, our members share advice on how to build successful, scalable and self-sufficient social media programs,” said Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Social Media Business Council and its parent company, GasPedal. “This new name and domain better reflect the wide range of issues our community focuses on.”
The name change was a collaborative effort, with members sharing dozens of name suggestions before selecting Social Media Business Council through a vote at Member Meeting 4 in New York City.
  • read more on the blog of the Social Media Business Council

note: picture courtesy of on Flickr, this picture was made available by its author under the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic creative common licence.