American Express OPEN Forum is all about community. The branded blog is considered a gold standard for content marketing, and for good reason. Besides impressive longform initiatives like “The Journey,” a multimedia project that chronicled the story of a small kombucha business, OPEN Forum consistently produces helpful content for a loyal audience of small business owners.
Last week, at Contently’s Executive Finance Summit, Courtney Colwell, director of OPEN Forum and content marketing at American Express, sat down with Elisa Cool, VP of brand development at Contently, to discuss the past, present, and future of Amex’s publishing philosophy. The two talked about topics that every publisher can relate to, like building a loyal audience, working with influencers, and understanding the rising impact of social platforms.
(Full disclosure: American Express is a Contently client.)
“Content as community”
OPEN Forum has always been about community, but OPEN Forum’s evolving focus on content has changed the way they bring people together.
“We got really heavy into content over the past several years,” Colwell said. “Now we’re rethinking, ‘What does that idea of community mean again, and how can we make it more personalized?'”
As the emphasis changes, Colwell envisions “content as community,” where more work on OPEN Forum will come directly from the site’s core audience of small-business owners, addressing ways they can help each other.
One of the main ways Colwell hopes to develop this sense of community is by collaborating with the vast network of influencers who are Amex card holders. It’s something the company has done throughout its history, but Colwell believes a renewed focus on influencers will lead to even better results.
Besides making cardholders feel more connected to the community, Colwell also believes that getting influencers involved benefits the publication in many ways. “The great thing about working with influencers is the fact that they have audiences and followers, and they have lots of conversations with them,” she said. That reach is beneficial for attracting new people to the OPEN Forum community.
She also sees influencers as a smart way to give a publication a healthy variety of perspectives since customers may not always trust a brand’s voice, particularly when it comes to banks and financial service companies. “The beauty of working with the influencers and experts in these topics is that it’s not us answering it. It’s not our voice,” she said. “We’re bringing the experts to the table who can answer it for you.”
Living in social
For years, Amex has been committed to building a community on the OPEN Forum site. Increasingly, however, Amex is becoming focused on branching out to the social networks where its target audience already spends their time.
“We thought about promotions and distribution in terms of ‘Okay, now what can we put out there to tease people to come back to [OPEN] Forum,'” she said. “I think over time, we’re seeing more and more that it’s unrealistic to expect people to click through from wherever they are to come to your site.”
Colwell and her team are launching projects that will live natively on social platforms. They’re also thinking about all their social channels work in tandem, rather than separate entities, while still maintaining the strong branding you’d find on the OPEN Forum website.
“Wherever you’re consuming content, no matter what the channel is, if it’s from OPEN Forum, it [will be] designed to make you feel like you’re part of a bigger community,” she said. “You can tap into it to get answers to your questions to help you with your business.”