American Express Co. and Twitter on March 6 announced a partnership that should help Amex glean a wealth of information about its customers and likely customer prospects. It also should help strengthen merchant relationships and get Amex’s cardholders to speak up for its brand, creating what’s called in social media-speak “promoters” through the lure of coupons.

What Twitter gets out of the deal is a way to make money on its messaging service, which has 100 million users. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Under the arrangement, customers are asked to sync their American Express account with Twitter. Customer who agree to this authorize American Express to read their Tweets and see who they follow. When customers tweet special-offer hashtags, they receive special offers loaded directly onto their Amex card.

If American Express applies the right social-media analytics tools to the information it gathers through these new Twitter streams, it can gain a great deal of information about its customers’ preferences and overcome the problem of social media anonymity, in which it’s difficult to tell who a Twitter user with a handle such as “catfan12” really is. It can know in minute detail immediately what its customers are buying and doing.

The 16 retailers who have signed up so far, including Best Buy, Dell, McDonald's, Zappos Ticketmaster and Whole Foods Market, also get new information from this program. Besides getting their coupons distributed to consumers, they merchants will receive reports from Amex about the online and offline spending behavior of their customers, which is especially valuable to brick-and-mortar retailers that often lack information about their walk-in traffic.

Amex also is working closely with Facebook on various applications (see story).

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