So many brands have jumped on the bandwagon of influencer marketing that it may be losing all association with originality and authenticity. So when Amtrak decided on an angle for reach through social media, it went about it differently. Its goal was to work off people whose social reach run deep rather than merely wide.
Late in 2018, Amtrak launched its #AmtrakTakeMeThere Social Media Residency Program. It’s intended to showcase the diversity of the trains’ riders by following the stories of individuals who offer a unique perspective on travel. Applicants will be assessed on the basis of their writing skills, photography and videography skills, social community engagement’ and online personality.
Those selected to represent the Amtrak brand get a free round-trip as Sleeper Service passengers. That means they get the kind of amenities one does in a full-service hotel, like meals, bottled water, linens, and a travel allowance up to a thousand dollars.
Olivia Irvin, Amtrak’s public relations manager shared some insight into what prompted this direction for the brand. She explained, “Today’s market has become saturated with ‘influencers’ who seem more like ad units than actual people. We don’t want that disconnect — we want stories that resonate.”
So they decided to get to the heart of what influencer marketing is meant to be about: . “Influencer marketing at its very root is ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing” that is based on actual “users’ opinions and experiences.” The idea of the Social Media Residency Program “is to amplify those experiences in an authentic, relatable way.”
I asked if Amtrak would be favoring video, audio, or textual content. Irvin answered that the “eyes do have it” in terms of the medium they seek to capitalize on: “Visual content is a priority given that our residency program lives on social media,” though she added the caveat, that “we encourage creativity and will consider all formats.”
How their stories will get told, however, is not altogether clear. I asked how Amtrak would treat the user generated content of those selected for the program, whether it would just provide a platform for what they’ve produced or if it create its own content that incorporates aspects of what has been generated. She said that would only be determined “ on a case-by-case basis,” though she said the goal would be to find a medium that works with the “residents’ styles and personalities.”
Now if I were inclined to take a long train trip myself, I’d be tempted if only because of the inclusion of type typically overlooked in the description of the types of people encouraged to apply. Amtrak’s site declares, “We’re looking for real people to tell their Amtrak story,” and then it lists “Creatives, Introverts, Families, Survivors, Retirees.”
Such an approach is a refreshing challenge to the assumption that only the outgoing, glamorous, and young deserve attention on social media and as representatives of brands. And it would give new meaning to “All aboard!”