Small Business Saturday showcases AmEx’s CSR

First there was Black Friday, then there was Cyber Monday. Now, there’s Small Business Saturday, sandwiched in between these two major shopping days. But, this isn’t an organic idea collectively developed by small business owners or something dreamed up by the shopping gods. Instead, it’s the CSR-focused brainchild of American Express as part of their “Open” forum initiative.

If you haven’t seen the commercials, here’s the gist: “Small Business Saturday” encourages shopped to “pledge to shop small” and make a purchase from a local business. Whether it’s a restaurant, hardware store, or candy shop, consumers are encouraged to support small businesses in their community. The event premiered last year and continues again this year.

They’re promoting the day through 60-second TV ads, a Facebook page with over 2.4 million fans, a Twitter account (@ShopSmall) with just under 4,000 followers, and a separate website page. In addition, they’ve created tools for both businesses and consumers to get involved. For example, on their Facebook page, consumers can search their zip code to find participating small businesses in their area. On their website, they have a “Rally Your Customers” tab, encouraging businesses to start Facebook pages, create YouTube videos, and download an app that aggregates customer feedback. American Express cardholders can even earn $25 cash back when they “shop small” this Saturday.

In return for their efforts, American Express secured multiple press hits, support from giant businesses including Google, FedEx, and AT&T, and an endorsement from President Obama himself. Last year, American Express saw a 27 percent increase in sales, and over 100,000 small business owners downloaded materials to participate. Here’s why it works:

  • It’s social. The very idea of the Open initiative came through promoting Small Business Saturday through Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. Rather than taking an idea from the “real” world and trying to make it work on social networks, American Express embraced the power of digital word of mouth and “social currency” to translate online buzz into real world sales.
  • It targets both audiences. American Express created resources for both businesses and consumers and made those resources easy to access and use. Instead of promoting the day solely to customers, they developed resources to help small businesses themselves participate and therefore become ambassadors for the initiative.
  • It’s subtly branded. Yes, the American Express logo is on most of the promotional material and pages, but it’s not the main focus of the initiative. Customers don’t feel like they’re being sold an idea from a credit card giant, but rather participating in a nationwide movement.

Want to participate? Be sure to use the hashtag #smallbizsaturday on Twitter or share your plans on their Facebook page. Where will you “shop small” today? Any favorite local business you plan to support?

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About Abby Ecker

PR pro and healthy living blogger in the First State
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