The importance of authenticity & ethics in social media – the #amexbeinspired Twitter #fail


Tonight was the launch of a new initiative by the credit card company American Express called ‘Amex be inspired’.

According to the Facebook page there was a launch tonight by the actor Kevin Spacey of an initiative to help young people reach their potential through the charity the Prince’s Trust. The idea is that every tweet answering ‘what inspires you?’ using the hashtag #amexbeinspired or Facebook mention will result in a 50p donation by American Express to the charity. So far so worthy you might think.

Then you start to think, ‘what’s a credit card company doing working with a charity which has always focused on young people getting out of poverty?’ It grates. Immediately a few people on Twitter and in particular a guy called @piglungs began to see a way to sabotage this campaign (knowing that at the same time they were effectively donating 50p each time they tweeted to charity). Most of @piglungs’ tweets aren’t repeatable here, but here are a couple:

Tweet reads 'you inspire in me a desperate desire to live in a world that doesn't have credit in it'Tweet reads 'you inspire people to see debt as the price of love'This brings me to the importance of authenticity in social media. People who use social media aren’t stupid, they can see through a cutesy corporate campaign like this and American Express have walked right into a storm of ridicule because of it. It’s the equivalent of a teacher trying to ‘get down with the kids’ (probably by using that phrase for a start!) and failing miserably! @piglungs put it well:

Tweet reads 'you inspire me to make a list of the worst uses of social media I've ever seen. Which starts 1. #amexbeinspired

If you’re going to use social media you have to be authentic and have integrity. I applaud this company’s desire to give to charity but to associate your company name so closely with the idea of ‘inspiration’ and with lifting young people out of poverty when your business is quite probably one of the reasons those young people are in poverty is hypocrisy of the highest order. With social media you have to realise that this is a two way discussion, if you invite people to tweet using a hashtag and you haven’t thought through the ethics of your campaign – people will playfully subvert what you’re trying to do.

So, I will take away from this the following golden rules:

  • be authentic
  • have integrity
  • match your campaigns to your ethos and core business aims (don’t try and be something you’re not)
  • consider the ethics of your campaign, what objections might people have?
I’ll be intrigued to see if anything further happens with this tomorrow – it’s 11.30pm on Thursday 8th September as I write this, I hope people will continue to tweet #amexbeinspired but in a subversive way – this way we can point out the folly of American Express and make a bit of money for the brilliant charity that is the Prince’s Trust!

Thank you American Express for helping us all to learn from your digital marketing mistakes!

Interestingly I have just visited the Prince’s Trust website and there is no mention on the front page of #amexbeinspired except in a small press release – a very wise decision – take the money by all means but this is clearly about making American Express look like they’re doing their bit for corporate responsibility and not really about the Prince’s Trust or young people.

Update 9th September, 7.30pm

A few things have happened since I originally wrote this post that I just wanted to add as an update.

The most significant discovery is what Anthony pointed out in the comments on this blog and that is that it appears that American Express had committed to give £150,000 to the Prince’s Trust regardless of how many tweets or Facebook updates are made. It seems that if more tweets than the value of £150,000 were made that they wouldn’t actually pay out. This implies that they were always intending to make (in the grand scheme of things) quite a modest donation and then built this ‘be inspired’ campaign around it. The terms and conditions laid out by AmEx of the campaign state:

‘We’ve had to set a realistic commitment for The Prince’s Trust so they can get planning the programmes that will offer life changing skills and experiences to the young people they reach out to; and we have committed to giving £150,000 to The Prince’s Trust this year.’

So although I suggested originally that we should tweet to make as much money for the charity as possible, there is actually no point – all it will do is raise awareness of American Express (which is what they were intending all along).

Update again 9pm:

@Amexbeinspired just tweeted the following: Every inspiration counts. We committed £150K to The Prince’s Trust at minimum but hope for 1m inspirations up to £500K.

This is great news, more money for the Prince’s Trust! (Although I have my doubts that they’ll reach 1m tweets). Thanks for spotting this Jame! (see comments below).

So far I have found these other articles about the failure of this social media campaign:


Which? Conversation:

SMI Intelligence in Social Media:

I will add to this if I find any more or feel free to let me know of any others in the comments below. Keep an eye on the twitter stream by typing #amexbeinspired into the search bar on Twitter.