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This Saturday marks the third annual "Small Business Saturday," sponsored by the folks at American Express (NYSE:AXP). Since 2010, the company has been promoting the importance of small businesses in every community and the need to continue patronage of those establishments. Here's a quick rundown of what the program involves, how it started, and how you can participate.

A brief history
Though the Shop Small tradition has only been around for the past three years, American Express really grabbed on to a growing trend of consumers looking to buy locally. Perhaps as a statement to counter the growing masses entering big-box retailers each Black Friday, the date is set each year on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Within the first year of its plan, American Express's SBS received over 1.2 million "likes" on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).

The following year, Congress recognized the importance of the project by passing a bill to support the efforts to drive new awareness toward small businesses. At the time, small businesses employed half of the people working in the nation's private sector and accounted for half of the private, non-farm product in the Gross Domestic Product.

A helping hand
This year, American Express has listed over 350 separate organizations as partners in the program, including trade organizations, local municipalities, and chambers of commerce. It's handful of "premiere" partners include Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), FedEx (NYSE:FDX), Foursquare, and the United States Postal Service. Each company is providing support to small businesses for advertising through either credits (Twitter and Foursquare) or free signage, etc. (FedEx and USPS). The USPS is also providing free shipping for small business orders on the ShopSmall.com website.

Joining in
Local consumers are encouraged to join the team with both social media and other promotional events. You can use the hashtag #Shopsmall in your Twitter feeds or on Facebook to share where you'll be shopping. There's also a helpful search function on the shopsmall.com website that lets you see participating stores in your neighborhood.

Not just for the little guy
Of course, the benefit to American Express goes beyond helping local shop owners. The entire event promotes the use of its credit cards, with members getting $10 statement credit for registering their cards before they go out and shop. But American Express isn't about to forget its big partners -- the company recently teamed up with Walmart (NYSE:WMT) to offer the Bluebird loadable card for consumers looking for an alternative to credit and debit cards.

Though the principle of Small Business Saturday is a good one, consumers shouldn't forget that every day could be a "shop small" day, and that American Express will be getting plenty of business on Black Friday as well.

Fool contributor Jessica Alling has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express, Facebook, and FedEx. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.