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Amtrak Rides Twitter 'Promoted Accounts' to Pick Up Followers

  |  June 14, 2011   |  Comments

Rail service and big brands test "Who to follow" ads.

amtrakAmtrak is just one in a crowd of brands that have jumped aboard the paid Twitter marketing train during the last eight weeks. FedEx, BMW, Energizer, McDonald's, HBO, Cover Girl, Arby's, Red Mango, and others are testing Twitter's Promoted Accounts, designed to increase followers.

Speaking with ClickZ News, Amtrak senior marketing officer Will Samolis said his company began paying for followers on April 12.

"Our Facebook following is very strong," he said. "We have a vibrant community on that platform. Twitter for whatever reason wasn't catching on as quickly. So we really wanted to get the word out there to our customers and potential customers about how they could get the latest rail news and other company information."

Since then, Samolis and his team have doubled Amtrak's followers from less than 10,000 to nearly 20,000 for its main Twitter handle (@amtrak). Eight thousand of the new followers have been tracked to the Promoted Accounts ad placement, he said.

Samolis said Amtrak has also placed Promoted Tweets ads in the last month. Here's how the two ad types compare: Promoted Accounts ads appear in the "Who to follow" column on Twitter.com and are targeted in part based upon who a user already follows. Advertisers pay for follows. Promoted Tweets are displayed in search results on Twitter.com, as well as search results via Google, HootSuite, and recent Twitter acquisition TweetDeck. HootSuite users also see them in their user timelines (They do not yet appear in timelines on Twitter.com or on other Twitter clients). Promoted Tweets are priced on a cost-per-engagement model; marketers are charged for actions such as tweets, re-tweets, and clicks. As with Promoted Accounts, ads are targeted to Twitter users based on their followers and other factors.

Without divulging budget numbers, Samolis said the cost of increasing Twitter followers is similar to what Facebook marketers are paying for "likers." He said, "It skews a little lower than your typical pay-per-click campaign."

When asked about future paid Twitter campaigns, Samolis said, "This was definitely a test. We are always looking for new channels to get our name out there. We wanted to raise awareness. The fact that the Twitter platform is maturing as we speak with geo-targeting and whatnot, we would definitely consider running more campaigns in the future…I can see us using the geo-targeting on Twitter to do various flash sales and promote new routes."

One possible way Amtrak will look to utilize geo-targeting via Twitter, Samolis said, lies in building up the audience for its northeast corridor routes handle (@amtrakNEC). That account provides train travelers from Boston to Washington D.C. with emerging service news on a minute-by-minute basis, and has accrued nearly 4,000 followers. The East Coast business-class is a key demographic for Amtrak, which appears dedicated to building the regional Twitter initiative.

"It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Samolis said. "Anytime there is a service disruption in the northeast corridor…we issue an alert on Twitter. We probably will explore [doing paid Twitter ads] when the inclimate weather returns in the northeast."

Red Mango Grows Twitter Followers by Almost 3X

Adam Bain, Twitter's chief revenue officer, last week told ClickZ News that the number of retailers testing Promoted Accounts shifted from a trickle to a muckle about "one to two months ago." His San Francisco-based company recently moved Promoted Accounts to a higher position on Twitter.com's home page design, above the Promoted Trends placement ($120,000 per day).


"With marketers we feel like we're trying to shrink the funnel and connect the dots better between awareness, engagement, brand favorability, purchase intent, through to conversion - and even what happens after…you make a purchase," Bain said. "One of the things we'd like to do for [the retail] space is connect the dots better on the conversion side."

Dan Kim, CEO of yogurt retail chain Red Mango, has been running Promoted Accounts for the last month. Red Mango's Twitter handle, which includes Kim's headshot because he personally helps manage the messaging, has jumped from 11,000 to 29,000 followers since buying the ads.

"My goal is to stay as close to customers as possible, and to give them what they want or need," Kim said. "This allows me to do that. There are no filters or steps. I can see the comments in real-time."


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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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