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4 Lessons From American Express On How To Sell Social Inside Your Company

Leslie Berland, SVP, Digital Partnerships and Development, American Express, has helped orchestrate American Express’s major social media initiatives like Twitter sync. Here, MCP 2012 honoree Berland shares 4 lessons for make social media a core competency in your company.

Leslie Berland has brought new meaning to the phrase "social currency." Through partnerships with Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, American Express cardholders can now sync cards to their social-media accounts to earn savings from brands such as Best Buy, Whole Foods, and Zappos. "If we do any commerce or promotional program," Berland says, "there has to be a social element." Here’s how she raised social media’s clout at AmEx:

Evangelize
"How do you sell the most senior leadership on platforms like Twitter when you first have to explain what a tweet is, how it works, and what it means? I’ve seen so many presentations aim too high or be too basic. Tailoring your presentation to your audience is the first, most critical piece. That’s where I spent a lot of my time the first year [we were on social media]."

Berland appears in Fast Company’s June 2012 100 Most Creative People issue. Click here to browse the full MCP list.

Make it about the money
Berland made it clear that her social initiatives weren’t "just about PR and conversations. We look at these platforms as business-development opportunities." For example, when AmEx planned to offer card members exclusive access to Bon Jovi tickets, Berland persuaded higher-ups to market the reward on Twitter. (Traditionally, the company would have advertised the promotion in newsletters and made direct calls to VIPs.) "We’d only been on Twitter for two days, but we pushed out one tweet, and within three hours, the entire thing was sold out. We had never before seen results that fast. These proof-point moments get leadership to believe and say, 'Okay, now this could be bigger.'"

Do more with less
"In our first eight to nine months, we didn’t spend a dollar on advertising on Facebook. We wanted to build followers, engagement, and scale to the point where we could eventually say, 'We have a big bet now. Let’s start putting a lot of juice behind what’s possible.'"


When you’re ready, think big

Berland’s moment came through connecting Facebook to AmEx’s "Small Business Saturday" promotion (an initiative to encourage holiday shopping with local merchants the day after the big-box-bloated Black Friday). Senior leadership initially saw social as secondary. "Facebook was going to be a side part," Berland says. "That was the first time we put a stake in the ground and said, 'No, this entire program is going to run through Facebook.'" The move drove a significant spike in business and sent foot traffic into stores. "Governors and mayors from around the country were hopping on board with their support," Berland says. And now Small Business Saturday is a year-round initiative.

Timeline

2005

Berland joins American Express

2009

Brings American Express’s social presence to Twitter and Facebook

2010

Launches "Small Business Saturdays" on Facebook

2011

Teams with Foursquare at SXSW to launch a pilot program that enables users to check in for deals

2012

American Express creates an ultra social credit card that lets users sync with Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare

[Photo: Chris Buck]

A version of this article appears in the June 2012 issue of Fast Company.

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