Mark Higginson

How attention flows on the web


27 April 2013

AmEx’s OPEN forum took four years to get 1 million people aboard and now gets over 150,000 unique visitors per month.

This quote is from a presentation about ‘trends’ in digital content. It was from a talk to the Content Marketing Association and is an example of the kind of assertion I see in many presentations of this type related to ‘brands as publishers’.

The inference of the above is that AmEx is running a successful content destination: 1 million members! 150,000 unique visitors!

Click. On to the next slide. But wait. Is this true? Is the presenter simply confirming a bias they already hold and members of the CMA are likely to have?

Let us visit AmEx’s OpenForum.

“OPEN forum is an online community for business owners, connecting them with insights, advice, and tools to help them manage and grow their companies.”

Is this a community?

Have a look at the sidebar and visit the posts under ‘most commented’. On the day I visited the five highlighted posts had no more than two comments each.

The most viewed posts had no comments on them. Strange.

Either this is a very quiet community with millions of page views or in fact there is no community here and no real readership. There is a big difference between visitors and readers; as I have previously highlighted they need to:

The OPEN forum Facebook Page shows 329,164 ‘Likes’ yet on the day I checked only 865 were ‘People Talking About This’. That is 0.26%.

Their Twitter Profile has 189,815 followers yet in the past month posts have averaged low single to double digit retweets. The highest was about 26 RTs. Have a look through the follower list and see what you make of the profiles of some of these ‘people’.

Their YouTube Channel has one very popular video with over 7,000,000 views yet the next most popular video only has 38,000; views then fall off a cliff. Judging from the stats this was because they probably paid for the bulk of those several million views on the top video. Anytime you see a chart that looks like a rocket lift-off and then a flat-line is a dead giveaway.

On this evidence I would be very cautious about using this as a good example. Yet here we have someone standing up in front of a bunch of people and repeating unreferenced ‘facts’ to support an argument.

Interestingly there seems to be no shortage of posts congratulating AmEx on a successful job despite no verifiable evidence this site is working as a community or content destination:

“Beginning in 2007, OPEN forum established itself as a leading source of business insight and advice.”

American Express OPEN keeps ‘pulse’ on small business with social media

“This enlightened perspective has made a runaway success.”

What Amercian Express’ Open can teach us about social media

“Tumblr is a vibrant channel for OPEN forum and it is increasingly becoming important for its business audience.”

AMEX OPEN Forum taps New York City’s startup community

None of these quotes are believable.

tl;dr It is disturbing, yet entirely typical of the marketing echo-chamber, to repeat these messages because it suits the narrative the industry wishes to create for itself. And marketers then stand up in front of audiences and propagate these messages, largely unchallenged.

I feel like the kid in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Let me know what you think on Twitter