American Express Co.'s launch of a social media application for Apple Inc.'s iPhone that lets users share information about their purchases is one of the boldest recent moves from a credit card issuer, analysts say, and its competitors are likely watching the project closely.
Social Currency, which targets, young adults, is based on technology from Foursquare, a separate social media app that track users' movements through their mobile phones.
Amex expects to introduce soon a version of Social Currency designed for phones that use Google Inc.'s Android operating system.
Social Currency invites users to post online details about their purchases. Users also can note purchases they want to make in the future.
"This is a somewhat radical move by Amex," said Brian Riley, a senior research director at TowerGroup. "Harnessing this type of really personalized social media tool is something everyone in the card industry has talked about, but so far no one has jumped this deep into the water."
Amex, which announced the Social Currency app on Wednesday, simultaneously launched Currency, a personal financial education website.
Created in partnership with Federated Media, the site provides articles, tips and opportunities for consumers to share tips and experiences about managing their finances, and how cards can fit into these plans.
Amex said it plans to publish about 20 new articles each week on the site, and "user feedback will play an integral part in shaping and growing content."
Social networking, within the past two years, has become a hot button topic that many corporations are struggling to harness, and while several card issuers and networks are experimenting with the concept, most financial companies are still trying refine their strategies.
"Social media is of great interest to everyone right now, and there is definitely going to be a play to drive new business and customers. But no one knows exactly how to use it yet," Riley said.
"There will be some stumbling and a lot of concern about privacy and where are the limits on how much information consumers should share, but making the first move and gaining some critical mass could give Amex an advantage."
The tie-in with Foursquare sets Amex's iPhone app apart from other marketers' social media offerings, Riley said. "Foursquare is a big player in this area, and this should produce some interesting insights for Amex," he said.
Foursquare, of New York, went live in March of last year. The social networking system lets people use their mobile phones to post their locations, and is often used to help people find each other, and find restaurants, bars, theaters and other entertainment venues.
Foursquare claims 3 million users worldwide and lists some 15,000 venues around the world.
Megan Bramlette, a director with Auriemma Consulting Group, said, "This is innovative and pushes the envelope in targeting younger consumers."
Other card issuers and networks are experimenting with social media.
Citigroup Inc. in August hired the social media guru Frank Eliason to the newly-created role of senior vice president of social media. Eliason previously was senior director of national customer operations for the cable TV giant Comcast Corp.
Citi earlier this year launched Citi Shopper, a location-based mobile application that delivers local offers and deals to its card consumers.
The application is available for the iPhone, Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and Android phones.
The company also handles general banking and card customer service inquiries via Twitter and MySpace, and is developing a page for Facebook, a Citi representative said.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. last year launched a Facebook presence for its Chase Freedom card and in July added its Ink from Chase.
Bank of America Corp. provides live customer service help via Twitter, but the Charlotte financial company is not leveraging social media channels for marketing its credit or debit cards, a spokesperson said.
Visa Inc. has a variety of social media offerings, including a Facebook presence for its Visa Signature and for its prepaid debit products, a spokesperson said. Visa also used Facebook and YouTube to promote its sponsorship of the World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa this year.
MasterCard Inc. has two Twitter channels, for consumers and corporate users, and two YouTube channels and a Facebook page, a spokesperson said.
Discover Financial Services is using Facebook and Twitter to shape its customized card offerings.
This story has been reprinted with permission from American Banker.
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