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Should you friend credit card issuers?

Still, Twitter poses a danger for companies, especially if a customer is unhappy with their efforts or the outcome. So don't be surprised if a credit card issuer takes the dialogue offline when the conversation gets heated or privacy becomes an issue.

"Companies don't want to have a social media face, not handle it properly and end up having their social media efforts reflect disenchantment or disappointment for the company," says McCracken.

Like charity? Vote for a cause

One of the more heart-warming ways credit card issuers are reaching across the Web to connect with their customers is through philanthropy. Discover, American Express and Chase have all used social networking to support charities.

Earlier this year, Discover hosted its School Giveaway where Americans, cardholder or not, could vote for the public school of their choice on its Facebook page to receive the $25,000 prize. Each fan could cast one vote each day during the contest period. This year, Chicago's WJ Onahan School won the money.

Fans of American Express' Members Project Facebook page can vote for the charities that will receive funding from the credit card company. In its first year in 2007, the company donated $2 million toward clean drinking water in the developing world. The next year, $1.5 million went to funding research for Alzheimer's disease. Fans can also donate their own money through the site.

Chase's Community Giving Facebook page is also an example of a popular social media campaign to give back. Fans can vote for the five charities that will share the $2 million Chase plans to donate. The success is evident. The Chase Community Giving Facebook page has the most fans -- just under 3 million -- of all the Facebook pages of the financial firms that Corporate Insight tracks.

"It was a true experiment that turned into a phenomenon," says Kane.

Other social benefits

Credit card companies haven't stopped at Facebook and Twitter. This summer, American Express unveiled a mobile discount program with Foursquare. Cardholders link their Foursquare profiles to their American Express cards to upload discounts and redeem them at purchase.

"I walked into the DKNY store on Madison Avenue, checked into Foursquare and on the top right corner, my phone said I had a special offer -- spend $200 and get a $50 credit," says Sangwan.

In September, Capital One teamed up with Zynga, which owns such social games as "FarmVille," "CityVille" and "The Pioneer Trail." The credit card issuer opened up a bank branch in "CityVille," while the goat from its TV commercials interacted with players of "FarmVille" and "The Pioneer Trail." Players could earn exclusive rewards within the games, or go to the credit card issuer's Facebook page for access to additional offers. Three days after the partnership was announced, Capital One added another 750,000 Facebook fans, according to Corporate Insight.

Don't worry if you've missed out on you issuer's social media perks so far. McCracken doesn't expect the trend of virtual friending to go away soon.

"I think companies will look toward some of the trendsetters, see the success they're having and think: 'We need something like that,'" he says. "There will be a lot of followers."

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