Looking for a way to engage its large small-business community American Express launched an online community in 2007. American Express' OPEN Forum provides articles, videos, discussions, and events around topics such as innovation, lifestyle, money, technology, and more for small business owners. In addition, the site incorporates social media features, including a Twitter aggregator of small business-related tweets, and Connectodex, a proprietary networking tool that allows users to search Facebook-style profiles to make personal connections and help each other solve issues. The site averages nearly 1 million unique visitors per month.
Jason Rudman, director of OPENForum.com, shares his thoughts on the community site's evolution.
Why is the customer community important to your company as a strategy?
Small business growth means growth for OPEN. We recognize that social media and online communities are becoming an increasing priority for small business owners to connect with each other for marketing and communications purposes. OPEN Forum serves as a declaration that OPEN understands and cares about small business owners and delivers relevant tools - not just card products - and services to help [their businesses] grow.
There seems to be a mix of knowledgebase information as well as peer-to-peer, one-on-one connections. Do people gravitate toward one more than the other?
The level of engagement in both our content and the business interaction among Cardmembers has been equally successful.
There are a set of metrics that my team focuses on monthly, such as unique visitors, repeat visits, time spent on the site, enrollments in Connectodex, etc.,that form the basis for how we are doing.
There are some emerging stats that are piquing our interest; for example, how many times and how frequently is OPEN Forum being retweeted. This again shows a level of engagement and interest in what we are providing.
Do you have any specific examples of customers helping each other?
When the British Pound dropped sharply in early 2009, Jessica Hadler of American Business Group, a business brokerage, went to the OPEN Forum discussion board to voice her frustration. She learned how other business owners dealt with such sharp fluctuations.
Do you collect any data or insight from the community, and if so, what do you do with it?
We conduct a weekly poll on our homepage, which allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of community sentiment regarding several important issues that matter to small-business owners. This intelligence helps us better understand their needs and is taken into consideration when developing content for the Idea Hub section, as well as new products and services.
What is the biggest benefit to having an online customer community?
OPEN Forum allows us to build on the great Cardmember relationships we have with our customers. When we created OPEN Forum, we wanted to build an online community where business owners could connect, find answers to their questions, and learn from each other - but we also wanted a place where we could learn from them. Through their contributions to OPEN Forum, we gain invaluable insights into the types of resources and solutions that can help them better run their businesses. Customer feedback has always been a principle of American Express.
In fact, AcceptPay, our new online invoicing and payment solution, was co-developed with small business owners - product features are a direct result of feedback from test groups. With AcceptPay, you are seeing just the beginning of a new set of services that OPEN plans to offer to our members to help them with the core business problems they have been telling us about.
What is the biggest challenge to having an online customer community?
The world of social media and all its components, [like online communities], is an emerging one. OPEN Forum has challenged our internal processes, but thankfully brought out the best in our people through idea generation, innovation, and results.
What are your next steps?
We initially designed OPEN Forum for our business Cardmembers since this "credentialization" as a business owner could help minimize the clutter that befalls other networking sites. When we learned that LinkedIn, with its global network of professionals, was looking to open up its platform, we saw an enormous opportunity to involve more business people in OPEN Forum while still maintaining the standards our members have become accustomed to.
With the LinkedIn API, entrepreneurs and other business-minded professionals will be able to actively participate in discussions on OPEN Forum by using their LinkedIn credentials, regardless of whether they are Cardmembers.
Enabling the more than 50 million business-minded members of LinkedIn to join the conversation on OPEN Forum will provide more opportunities for our members to make those connections and exchange insights that can help them grow their businesses.