What #AmtrakResidency Teaches Us About Social Branding

Amtrak recently set the internet abuzz with what may have started out as a general musing from a user on Twitter:

#AmtrakResidency

Zach’s tweet that kicked #AmtrakResidency into motion

Now, granted, Zach has a check next to his name so you immediately see ‘Influencer’ light bulbs going off (he is Senior editor of Quartz), but Amtrak, to their credit, went with it and offered two tickets to make this ‘thought’ into a ‘reality.’

Fine enough just as a one-off, it appears Amtrak is running with the idea and has encouraged the use of a new hashtag: #AmtrakResidency.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 1.26.02 PM

This is a brilliant move by Amtrak, the nation’s leading railroad (and bus) services, which has made the news for the better part of the decade for financial problems and route closures. To take an idea like this has huge potential to reintroduce audiences to their company and show why rail can be a consideration in a time where it’s either ‘fly or drive.’

Brands of all stripes can learn from this effort across six specific lines:

  1. Utilize an active social media program to mine for ideas and allow unique, random thoughts from the world to assist your marketing efforts.  An idea was posed (it originated in an interview), Amtrak considered it and found it worth the ‘risk.’ That their ‘risk’ is in quotes leads to the next item…
  2. Amtrak used its own product to move audience interest. #AmtrakResidence is not about an entry to win a new car or a cruise – the winners receive a product Amtrak directly controls. This makes the ROI drastically stronger than a check which draws from company resources. It also…
  3. Provides Amtrak the ability to scale its campaign significantly. This can go on as long as Amtrak wants, which allows their team to carefully track how it is going, determine if the budget is where executives want it and then end on its own terms. And when they see a drop in buzz behind…
  4. #AmtrakResidence tracking. In a world where ROI is consistently undefined, metrics like original discussion and submissions matter. While news articles or link backs will use @Amtrak, “only” (realistically 99/100 times) genuine engagement over their contest will include that tag in a discussion…
  5. Controlled by Amtrak. This campaign can move in 100 different directions and be as ‘premium’ or minimalistic as they see fit, whenever they see fit. One trip can be for a weekend getaway for a young couple in Dallas (selected by Amtrak, of course) while another can send an older couple to visit their grandchildren. Because when you own a contest or program like #AmtrakResidence, you…
  6. Introduce your brand as a part of your customer’s lives. Lifestyle branding allows a company to place its product into the way its prospects think and live. By being in charge of selection, #AmtrakResidence can humanize a simple train ride and transform it into a hundred different narratives that align with a massive section of the audience’s needs in the next six months.

You don’t need to be train company to do these things. Build audience engagement by attaching a hashtag like #AmtrakResidency to any campaign you run. Provide your brand flexibility on campaigns that are growing and don’t necessarily have a hard deadline (like a submission timeline, etc.). And especially important for smaller businesses: use your own product as collateral whenever possible. This not only allows you to ensure quality in the experience as far as you’re willing to go, you also save money based upon market value AND align your product as the hero running in tandem with the winner.

#AmtrakResidency is already a success by driving a variety of new writing ideas into users online, with a potential audience duplicating with every blogger readership attached to their ‘winners.’ In the end, the #AmtrakResidency may end up being a win for everyone.

Photo Credit: Redarrow

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