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American Express Partners With Twitter to Enlist Consumers for a New Marketing Play

Twitter
Source: Twitter.com
Twitter

Just a few weeks after Twitter announcedit’ll allow anyone to buy ads, starting with American Express small businesses, it's partnering with AmEx again, this time to turn everyday cardholders into marketers, in exchange for discounts.

American Express's Vice Chairman Ed Gilligan says the company is "turning Twitter content into commerce," but what it seems like is an entirely new way for marketers to enlist consumers to spread the word for them on twitter.

Here's how it works:

Am Ex Card members will go online to sync their card to Twitter. When they tweet out designated hash tags about special offers, like "#bucksatbestbuy" they get a discount or a credit for the participating store. And the discount or credit loads directly onto users' cards — they don't have to pull out a coupon code or remember to redeem the discount.

The list of participating companies is impressive and diverse — in addition to Best Buy , it includes McDonald's , Whole Foods Market, Zappos, H&M, Ticketmaster, and Dell . These are some of the nation's biggest advertisers. And now, thanks to American Express linking consumers cards to their Twitter accounts, they'll have access to more information not just about how they're spending, but how they're spending their time on Twitter.

This seems like a pretty big deal for Twitter — if American Express card holders do indeed link their accounts, that opens the floodgates to potential retail partnerships. A few weeks ago Twitter CEO Dick Costolosaid that he could imagine taking a cut of commerce on Twitter — I didn't think it would be in the works this soon.

It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time AmEx has marketed through social networks—it has similar partnerships with FourSquare and Facebook. Last June Foursquare launched its partnership with AmEx, allowing cardmembers to load deals using FourSquare apps on smartphones. Last July AmEx launched a “Link, Like Love” app on Facebook, which gives cardmembers offers and deals based on what they ‘like’ on the site. Also in July, AmEx introduced a tool for small businesses to distribute coupon-less offers for Cardmembers. The company won’t say just how successful or large those programs have been, just saying “we’ve delivered millions of dollars in savings to card members so far.”

But this concept isn't without a slew of potential challenges and flat-out problems: Are people be willing to become marketing pawns in order to get discounts? Will this create a new kind of Twitter spam that drives users away from the service? What will AmEx and partners like Best Buy and Whole Foods do with all this information they'll get about users via Twitter accounts? What about privacy concerns?

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.