Amtrak has a new twist on the classic social media influencer strategy. As part of its new #AmtrakTakeMeThere promotion, Amtrak is willing to offer free round-trip travel on any long-distance train route as well as $1,000 in travel cash for fans and followers who can demonstrate that they have a “diverse and unique perspective on travel” as well as plenty of creativity and energy on social media. In other words, if you have a bit of wanderlust and enjoy posting photos of epic landscapes on Instagram, you might be exactly the type of person Amtrak is looking for as part of this new promotion.
Re-thinking the classic social media influencer strategy
Amtrak has specifically said that social media follower count is not the basis for selection, and that they are not looking for top influencers who do this to make a living. This marks a real departure from the traditional influencer strategy, in which brands specifically search out glamorous A-list and B-list influencers, give them lots of free product samples or the VIP treatment, and expect extensive social media coverage in response. Instead, Amtrak seems much more content to pick out a relatively unknown person from the crowd who happens to love travel and have some solid social media skills.
From a marketing perspective, the #AmtrakTakeMeThere campaign has much more of the feel of one of those essay contests that travel companies love to run – “Tell us why you’d be the perfect person to travel to Cancun for Spring Break, and you could win a free, all-expenses paid trip to sunny Mexico!” As part of those essay promotions, companies aren’t necessarily looking for beautiful supermodels who would look great hanging out on a beach – it’s just as possible that a sweet grandmother looking to enjoy her retirement in style might win the promotion.
Generating a higher ROI with influencer marketing
The big picture here, of course, is that many large brands have gotten burned by throwing money at “the beautiful people” on Instagram, and are looking for a much higher ROI by searching out regular people on social media who aren’t expecting tens of thousands of dollars for a single Instagram photo. The reality is that many of the top social media influencers today are basically mercenaries-for-hire, willing to promote any company or any brand, just as long as they’re getting paid.
So Amtrak is getting back to the original roots of the social media influencer strategy, looking for people who love to travel, and who also have the social media skills to bring their stories to life. Amtrak has specifically said that it is looking for people who can “connect with followers at a deep level.” So Amtrak wants people who aren’t just using photos and tweets to show off a fabulous lifestyle. (Of course, with the extra thousand dollars that Amtrak is using to sweeten the pot, it’s perhaps expected that you will make your trip a little more extravagant than otherwise possible.)
The business case for a scaled-down influencer strategy
And there’s a good business rationale behind the new influencer strategy, too. While taking Amtrak trains up and down the Northeast Corridor might be commonplace for business travelers in cities like Washington, Philadelphia and New York City, many people probably don’t think about Amtrak when considering options for how to travel across the country on long-distance trips. So Amtrak is hoping that people will re-discover the thrill and excitement of train travel, and perhaps snap some great photos along the way. It will be interesting to see how much traction this new Amtrak promotion gets – if it succeeds, it might convince other large companies and brands to re-think their social media influencer strategies.