American Express Uses Web For 'Members Project'

American Express' Members Project screenshotFor its second year, American Express has expanded the scope of its social responsibility, "Members Project," making it easier for people to help shape projects that fit their interests, beefing up its online presence, and devoting more money to more projects.

"We're putting more focus in how we leverage online," says Belinda Lang, vice president of consumer marketing strategy at American Express. "We're trying to make it that much easier for people to engage with us."

To help get the word out about the Members Project and the individual ideas, American Express has developed a vast array of online tools, from Facebook and MySpace presences to widgets and online badges people can use to promote their projects. The initial phase of the Members Project--where people create and hone ideas for good works-- will also be advertised heavily online, Lang said. "This is an online experience, our goal is to take advantage of what's going on with that space," she says.

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That includes opening up the discussion period of projects to people who don't have American Express cards. While nominated projects will come from American Express cardholders, everyone will have a chance to search out projects of interest. Projects are also divided into five categories--Arts & Culture, Community Development, Education, Environment and Wildlife and Health--making it easier for people to find projects for which they have an affinity.

"We're broadening the opportunity for non-cardmembers to register and begin to nominate projects they're interested in," Lang says. "Obviously, we'd love for those people to become cardmembers. One of the things we saw last year was that people who sampled the [Members' Project] community said, 'I like what they're doing.'"

The company is also encouraging further discussion and refinement of possible projects through the first phase, which continues through August 19. Last year, ideas were voted on as they were presented. This year, people can submit ideas, present them to the broader community, and continue to refine them.

Interested parties can help shape the projects by uploading photos, audio, and video, and can also illustrate their projects with photos, audio and videos if they choose. "These days, people know how to be their own media companies," Lang says. "At the end of the day, these stories need to be told in a way that will get through. It's human nature--people want to connect."

After Aug. 19, a panel of experts, ranging from academics to artists to journalists, will review the projects and announce the top 25 submissions in early September. Cardholders will be able to vote on those projects, and the winning project will receive $1.5 million in funding from American Express. The second-place finisher will get $500,000. Third will get $300,000, and fourth and fifth will each get $100,000.

So far, American Express is limiting its marketing of the Members Only project to the online space. Lang, however, would not rule out the possibility of using television or more traditional print advertising at a later date to promote the project. Last year, the company aired a television spot that featured all of its celebrity spokespeople--from Ellen DeGeneres to Martin Scorsese--to promote the Members Only project.

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