Creating and sharing high quality original content is one of the best online marketing strategies you can adopt. If the content is entertaining enough and connects with your audience, your content will generate shares and gain virality.
Amtrak has seen a revival in train ticket sales in part due to their recent content marketing push. Amtrak has a newly redesigned blog, an archive of content including pictures of Amtrak that stretches back over four decades, upping its social media game making it a force to be reckoned with. It has also begun sponsoring trips for writers, photographers and videographers, having a handful of brand advocates to create engaging content for the company.
Back in December, the novelist Alexander Chee said in an interview that he likes to write on trains and that he wished Amtrak had residencies for writers, referring to programs that house and sometimes feed artists so that they can focus on their work. This was repeated on Twitter a number of times including by Jessica Gross, a freelance writer who has written for the Times and other publications. Amtrak got in touch with Gross with an offer to test run Chee’s idea with a free trip from New York to Chicago and back again. Amtrak paid for Gross’s trip and in turn wanted Gross to share any content organically that she found along the way with her social network (with no requirement to do so) and to do a Q&A for the Amtrak blog. In February, Gross published an article based on her trip in The Paris Review (click below).
The article is not “sponsored by” or labeled “advertorial by Amtrak” however there was a disclaimer within the article with a link to an Amtrak blog post saying the trip was free. This article is an example of a great shareable piece of content in addition to the story behind its creation becoming a shareable piece of content as well. Both The Paris Review and The New Yorker have covered the background of this article, linking to the Q&A with Jessica Gross on Amtrak’s blog.
Amtrak sponsored another trip for Eric White of GlassDuffle.com who is a writer, blogger, vlogger extraordinaire. They sent Eric to 6 cities in 7 days, all by train. This curated content was shared over 6 months after the conclusion of the sponsored trip, reaching over 1K likes and shared over 100 times.
This is the most organic form of advertising with the writers and publishers doing the marketing work. If people can use your product, why not sponsor a blogger or other online authority to use it and share their experience like Amtrak has done here successfully.
Amtrak’s blog has a ton of great content with a mixture of videos, its own produced daily articles and posts, as well as content published by its customers. Amtrak does a good job of making its content entertaining and shareable, even information on its baggage policy. Some of Amtrak’s best articles offer multiple experiences. Why a ride on the Texas Eagle needs to be on your bucket list contains gorgeously shot video featuring lots of impressive footage but also sound bites from Amtrak staff and passengers and great practical advice on what best to see along the way all while subtly mentioning the benefits of riding with Amtrak.
Amtrak is using social media as a way to communicate in a two way conversation with their customers or those who are considering taking Amtrak. That two-way communication is exactly how the writer residency program came to be. Because Amtrak spends a lot of time listening to and responding to their customers, they’ve seen a huge spike in those one on one conversations in their Twitter feed. Their travelers are sharing their experiences as it happens through their eyes and Amtrak sees a huge opportunity to re-share those experiences that people post. For example, Amtrak gets 120K photos tagged with #AmtrakonInstagram that they are looking to re-share.
Amtrak is finally doing something innovative. The secret to their success is twofold. First, letting their customers tell their stories and experiences instead of the brand telling the story. And second, devoting individual attention to its customers by listening and responding to them. Amtrak is flipping that tired image it once had and making a new way focused on the customer first.