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American Express just took out the U.S. Postal Service as a middle man for the coupon delivery strategy it started doing by putting offers on the backs of billing statements every month.

In widely reported news, American Express teamed up with Foursquare to enable check-ins to deliver to American Express cardholders valuable offers for spending a certain amount of money at retail outlets.

Before we get too excited about the Foursquare and American Express deal, it's important to put into plain language what it does and what it does not do.

It does not change the American Express business model: helping people to buy things on credit in the stores and venues of their choosing.

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What it does do is provide a more efficient and immediate delivery of special discount codes and couponing to more targeted list of users, who will act given that special information and also delivering t to their friends.

According to Luke Gebb, VP of Global Networking Marketing for American Express, this API interaction with Foursquare is scalable and over time. "We are getting reporting about what this online platform drove in the offline world. The merchant will know exactly what kind of transactions and loyalty they have," says Gebb.

It has always been difficult to measure the impact that social media had on sales, transactions and leads. It was always fuzzy math. Tapping into the Foursquare API through a platform American Express has engineered means that there is now a capability for measuring tangible ROI. No more fuzzy math. Says Gebb, "This capability is competitively advantaged right now and is built to be partnered with multiple platforms." You can expect that this kind of marketing distribution channel will be rapidly deployed for American Express users of both elite and non-elite status. And the deals will increasingly become more granular, to the person, hints Gebb.

"All of that value is the type of thing we want to port on top of any platform where our card owners are interacting," says Gebb. "We are building towards a scenario in which the platform Foursquare or Patch, what have you, can query the Amex API for a customized offer as well. That may be an offer that be available to you and not to me."

Context: Living in the Age of Influencers but Not Many Listen, Fewer Still Create Great Content

This makes American Express and Foursquare some of the first movers in what will become the next layer of the social web: boosting consumption through influencer channels in the social grid.

Involver and Facebook, and Klout are three more. I interviewed Klout's CEO Joe Fernandez a few weeks ago, and in this post he hinted that the company was still toying around with how to blend the intuitive consumer-focused decision-making process with the scientific data tracking needed to make pinpoint influence offers.

Involver SVP of Marketing Jascha Kaykas-Wolff tells me that up until the announcement of an Involver-Klout partnership with Facebook, there was no way to engage with marketers individually but also at scale. The Facebook deal makes it possible to practice the old school marketing of a small business owner with millions of people at once—Granular Listening and Engagement at Scale:

We have not been able to connect with the fans on Facebook in a way that allows us to treat them all differently. This is the backdrop of our investment in a relationship with a company like Klout. The missing ingredient in Facebook ... on a meta-trend level is that Klout is driving a passive score, an influence score, but also identifying lines of supposed interest, or influence. You can layer that on top of Facebook and you get a powerful combination of multiple relationships."

Listening At Scale Promotes Better Buying At Scale

Nothing has changed, but many things have changed.

Before it was about massive marketing, to catch a few fish. Now it's about training all the fish in the net to swim there happily, so that they can buy more.

Content is the trick, but it is content at scale that shows both an understanding of the market (based on good listening) and proactive engagement (based on being able to create content that keeps people in their seats or drives them go shopping, or to select something) says Kaykas-Wolff.

It's through valuable content that you find the influencers and what the influencers find relevant, which they then pass on to their friends and followers in the social media distribution channels.

While all agree the influencers are important, some believe that there is too much credit given to influencers-as-influential, like AOL's social media director Matthew Knell. He believes the influencer graph is too top heavy and unwieldy. At the CM Meetup in New York City a couple days ago he mentioned this, and it was picked up by PRNewser:

In agreement with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, Knell emphasized that social media in many ways is "distribution" for AOL's content, but that the brand also values engagement. "AOL measures success by clicks, but they value engagement too. On Facebook we view clicks, comments, and likes the same," he said. "A lot of what we've been doing is trying to figure out how to market our products via social media."

This will be something that needs careful attention. The barriers for media buying at a hugely democratic level are very low now. There are wide channels, though they are not necessarily deep.

It is not that we need now to find the influencers. We need now to find the influencers who are really good at content, who can speak at more than the just the high level, to other influencers.

Companies are now going to become better and faster at doing what they always do, but marketing and content production are going to be the means by which they do this. "It is incredibly hard to go out and find an incredible editorial director," says Kaykas-Wolff.

I now as a marketer have to focus on creating content, and using these channels to distribute this content. It's an evolution of traditional marketing that is coming into play now. We are very much seeing that people with similar interests and influence are going to be connected faster and more efficiently, and marketers can do that without spending gobs of money.

In other words, we are seeing the birth of "agile marketing," a mash-up of a term that first started in iterative software development. "In the next four or five years, agile marketing is going to be a term that everyone talks about in the marketing world," says Kaykas-Wolff.