Amtrak has opened up a new can of worms, and it appears the fish are biting.
By now, you’ve likely heard of the #AmtrakResidency program the company plans to offer writers.
In case you missed this story, it began Dec. 23 on the PEN America site. Author Alexander Chee casually mentioned his favorite place to write was on the train. He said he wished “Amtrak had residencies for writers.”
That’s all it took. The conversation landed on Twitter, and Amtrak captured it.
In fact, #AmtrakResidency garnered 21,000 mentions in just six days. To put that into perspective, Amtrak typically sees 25,000 to 30,000 mentions within a 90-day period. Also as a result, Amtrak’s Twitter following grew 10 percent.
“Every brand is looking for the next viral campaign,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of social media and head of the #AmtrakResidency program. “This was born through social media. The number of people who raised their hands to participate was huge. It would be writing powered by Amtrak, and hopefully it will be an inspirational experience to get their creative juices flowing.”
Amtrak has been working fast to formalize the program: What it will look like, who gets to ride, and how writers are selected.
But Amtrak recognizes that while it’s uniquely cut out to do something special here, it must tread lightly in these waters. Officials there don’t want to cause ethical conflicts between a journalist and his/her employer or cross pay-for-play lines. To that end, there’s no required number of tweets or shares about Amtrak and no contract to participate.
Any mentions of Amtrak quite literally will come from organic buzz, turning this opportunity into an advocacy program for the brand.
“This is a program that could become a staple at Amtrak,” Quinn said. “We’ll monitor as we go. The sky’s the limit right now, but we don’t want to get lost in the excitement. We want to make sure we’re still making good decisions for our brand.”
Coincidentally, as #AmtrakResidency carved its conversation into Twitter, Amtrak already was planning its first-ever #AmtrakLive event, hosting more than 30 digital leaders and innovators to live tweet and blog on the Texas Eagle from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas in early this month. Social media influencers shared updates via Twitter and Instagram.