Coverage of this session by Cale Johnson of SocialMedia.org. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

3:50 — SocialMedia.org’s Jeff Casale introduces Amtrak’s Senior Officer of Social Media, Alexandra Kogan.

3:51 — Alex asks the audience if they’ve ever taken Amtrak, and most arms go up. She asks about the Northeast Corridor, and fewer hands go up. She then asks about long distance lines, and fewer hands. She says that’s a focus for them, as they’re working on building awareness for their long distance business lines that most riders don’t realize they offer.

3:52 — Alex shares one of her first campaigns working with influencer Amy Merrick. She’s an avid world traveler and actually reached out to them to do a partnership about how long-distance travel could be beneficial to millenials.

3:52 — Alex: Amy was a great partner because she had an authentic voice, was familiar with working with brands, and truly believed in the Amtrak experience. She had the ability to personalize the brand and pave the way for “replicative experiences.”

3:53 — Alex shares a key lesson they learned: Small partnerships can have a big impact. We realized one curated influencer (someone who’s predisposed to talking about the brand in a positive way and doesn’t require much coaching) can do more than 10 generic influencers.

3:54 — Alex shared a partnership they did recently with Warren G. He inserted his unique personality, and Amtrak experimented with creative additions like a Spotify playlist with Warren’s help. One of the big things they learned: Don’t be afraid to go a little left of your brand (most wouldn’t put Amtrak — a family heritage brand — with Warren G).

3:56 — Alex shares a few key takeaways:

  • Align with an influencer predisposed to your product, service, or industry
  • Encourage transparency and candidates
  • Agree on contracts and social reciprocity before launch
  • Link your influencers’ experience with how your customers can replicate it
  • Guide your influencer towards highlighting your key value propositions
  • Set benchmarks for ROI, engagement, and impressions

3:57 — Alex shares their latest partnership: Passion Passport. They’re a unique group of millennial travelers with great artistic skill sets.

3:58 — Alex: Amtrak has sometimes been seen as a “stodgy” brand. A lot of marketing focused on sheet metal — trains. We’re working on using Amtrak as the background for the experiences and memories you can have through us.

3:59 — Alex shares a lot of the guests they’ve had on their trains through Passion Passport: poets, professors, creatives, and other thought leaders. The idea is your next corporate retreat could be on an Amtrak train.

4:00 — Alex: With Passion Passport, we were able to show that Amtrak isn’t just a train, it’s something that can help you get where you’re trying to go.

4:00 — Alex shares some of their results from Passion Passport:

  • 1.5M engagements
  • 75M impressions
  • Word of mouth promotion

4:00 — Alex shares some of the things they learned:

  • Agree on contract specifics. A lot of influencers weren’t used to working with a brand that faces regulation and rules like Amtrak.
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes to curate content from your influencer program. Amtrak’s social team is a team of three, and this takes a lot of work.

4:01 — Alex talks about their Amtrak Residency. With the help of Alexander Chee, they put train travel at the center of creative. It was a high risk with a high reward — they had writers like Bill Willingham sharing quotes like, “Train time is found time.” They had 16,000 applications, and 24 writers were selected. Some have written books, screenplays, comic books. It was a great way to show Amtrak as a hub for creativity that may show you something you didn’t know you had.

4:03 — Her takeaways from the Amtrak Residency program:

  • Transparency. They asked each writer to share a blog post after their travels. They promised to post whatever the writers wrote unedited — which was a risk on their part. And, there were a few negative things (“rooms were cramped,” “bathroom wasn’t as clean as I’d like”) — but it gave them a chance to address it and showed honesty.
  • Turn participants into brand ambassadors. They used the residency program to inform influencers on the advocacy issues they’d love to see their ambassadors advocate on if they wanted to.

4:05 — Alex shared a few of her overall key takeaways:

  • Social listening and your customers can be your best source of “trainspiration”
  • Anticipate criticism and plan accordingly
  • Turn participants into brand ambassadors

Q&A:

Q: When you started Instagram, did you care as a success measurement of how many followers, or were you more interested in conversations elsewhere?

A: Alex: I think there’s value to both. Once you gain a follower, that’s unlimited impressions for as long as they follow you vs. one hashtag impression. For us, growth of the account was important because we’re such a visual brand with so much potential.

Q: Can you talk about how you work with PR and Communications with the influencer relationships?

A: We are PR, Corporate Comms, and Social Media all in one. We didn’t have any agency help with these, and it was a huge lift. So, we’ve got agency help for the next time around.

Q: For your relationship with Amy Merrick, you mentioned a huge return on investment, and it looked like you were measuring that on positive engagement. Did you measure that to anything like product conversion or intent to purchase?

A: I’m glad you brought that up. The blog is where we express the soul of the brand. So we’re able to see there if the content led to engagement or intent to purchase.

Q: In terms of budget — the paid vs. organic, and how you blended that together — how much is paid and how much is organic?

A: For the Residency, most of it was earned organic. It was really fantastic and a low investment for us — monetary wise — and a huge return.

Q: I wonder with these influencer actions, are these part of a larger influencer strategy? Or were these pilots?

A: When we started with Amy, it was a template for the Passion Passport Express and we took that success and just multiplied it. We didn’t set down at the start of the year and say we were going to do X. The Amtrak Residency was our thought-leadership track. So, it was a lot of figuring out along the way as opposed to a detailed strategy. A lot of this came to us, so it was about taking advantage of great opportunities.

Q: How are you encouraging the thousands and thousands of riders you have every day to share their stories online?

A: Our latest initiative is #amtrakstories — and through our blog we share stories. Sometimes I’ll reach out to great photos I’ll see on Instagram for more context, and I’ll use that to share their stories.

Q: Do you plan on moving influencers to a long-term relationship?

A: I think that’s definitely our next step to look back at what was successful and see how we’re going to take it to another level. But yes, we’re definitely planning on this.

Q: This was bound to Instagram, did you tease it to other channels?

A: We did. For me to drive growth to Instagram, we focused on exclusivity.

Q: What sort of advice would you give to our members and guests about social storytelling — what advice would give if they’re thinking about going ahead with an influencer program?

A: A really good friend of mine does social media for a relatively well-known gardening tools company — and she says she’s jealous of what creativity we can do. What I respond is that this is a relatively recent idea — and before, we had the same issue of being a static brand that was looking at equipment and trains. The key that we try to hone in on is what kind of emotions can you associate with your brand — and I assure you no matter what brand you are, there are emotions tied to it. My friend thought of maybe tying a grandmother and a granddaughter bonding over gardening — so there are opportunities for all of you out there.


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