Julie Quinn

“In my head, I was going to be this glamorous PR professional.”

The agency is here to push us to innovate, and the brand representative is there to push back on the agency to find a happy medium.

Julia Quinn, says that’s why she started her career in a niche PR firm helping big brand clients and Fortune 500 companies with traditional PR programs.

“But in reality, PR is not as glamorous for most people as it is on television,” she says.

So as traditional PR began to rapidly move towards social media, she made a career shift and joined a purely social media agency in D.C. Now, as the Director of Public Relations and Coordinator of Digital and Social Media for Amtrak, Julia says that agency experience has helped her make more cautious decisions on the brand-side of social media.

“When you’re at an agency, you want to be on the bleeding edge of everything,” Julia explains.

She says that the fierce competition agencies face gives them a lot of incentive to chase the next big thing. But on the brand-side, it’s her team’s job to help temper that momentum.

“The agency is here to push us to innovate, and the brand representative is there to push back on the agency to find a happy medium where we can operate with what’s good for the agency as well as what’s good for the brand,” Julia says.

According to Julia, her experience on the agency side has also helped her team act as an internal social media agency to the company. But to get there, she had to earn buy-in for an internal social team first.

When Julia started at Amtrak, social media was 25 percent of two employees’ jobs.

At that time, their social presence was more like another vehicle for heavy-handed marketing like flash sales and ticket promotions. To make the transition from primarily agency-led social to managing their own channels, Julia says it was like putting on an internal road show — sharing cost-benefit analysis and educating from the top down that social was more than just digital advertising.

One of the challenges that comes with new ideas is harnessing the company’s urge to chase too many social initiatives.

Whether they were prepared for it or not, customers were coming to Amtrak’s social channels for customer service.

“We had to explain that this is happening. We can either get on board and do a really good job, or we can dig our feet in and hope that customers stop coming to us for customer service needs on social.”

So they brought on and trained about 24 representatives from their call centers to manage social media customer service. From there, they could really listen to their customers and have that two-way conversation.

Amtrak’s hugely popular Writers’ Residency program: An idea that came from social listening.

“Amtrak’s Writers Residency program wasn’t birthed in a great marketing brainstorm — it was an idea that a customer brought to us on Twitter. By listening, being agile, and understanding that on social you need to move quickly, we were able to create this great program,” she explains.

“Social has a huge opportunity to be an incubator for thought,” Julia says.

She says that by putting more energy and resources into listening to their customers, she hopes their social program will become a hub for innovation at Amtrak.

But one of the challenges that comes with new ideas is harnessing the company’s urge to chase too many social initiatives.

Julia says making a framework for Amtrak’s goals in social media helps them keep from spreading themselves too thin.

“We want to be everywhere, but when you try to do too many things, you end up doing nothing very well,” she explains. “We have to make sure we’re not dramatically fragmenting the conversation by the proliferation of corporate social.”

For example, Amtrak’s Philadelphia station has a great recycling program, but, Julia says, they probably don’t need a Twitter handle. Instead, her team works to make sure customers understand Amtrak’s broader commitment to recycling.

“Looking to our peers at SocialMedia.org has been really helpful, because it’s nice to know that you’re not in this alone.”

“There are other brands going through the same challenges, and you can learn from those brands,” Julia says.

“Sometimes you can get into a vacuum within your brand, and the challenges can start to seem really great. It’s nice to ping the SocialMedia.org community to break out the challenges we’re facing and weed through some of the issues together.”

Say hi to Julia on Twitter and ask about her favorite place to travel by train. Julia’s been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2014.


  1. TouchStar Media » Do companies choose their customer service channels anymore? |

    […] appears to be a good example of that. In an interview with SocialMedia.org, Julia Quinn, Amtrak‚Äôs Director of Public Relations and Coordinator of […]

    • John D. Alder |

      Perhaps Amtrak could raise extra revenue by contacting liquor companies,beer companies, coffee companies,wine companies and tobacco companies and ask them if they would like to sponsor a Tavern car for all smokers. They could pay to have the car custom built to remove the smoke and the car could be painted in their corporate logo.The car could be located at the rear of the train. For the Boston to D.C. run the cars could be called :Tavern cars and for the long distance trains they could be called Drawing Room cars. This could attract many people who drive because they like to smoke. This would also be restoring a piece of the glory days of the streamliners when us smokers were not treated as social outcasts. These cars would allow cigarettes,cigars,pipe tobacco and e-smokes. Make train travel a more relaxing experience. What do you think? Respectfully yours, John D. Alder from Port Saint Lucie , Florida.

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