When Amtrak’s Social Media Director Julia Quinn stands before a crowd, she gets asked the same question.
“Every time I introduce myself to people they’re like, ‘Are you Julie? I’ve talked to you on the phone,’” Quinn says.
Julie, for those who don’t often take the train, is Amtrak’s voice recognition system; basically the Siri for choo-choos.
“I don’t know a lot of other brands where I know the name of their VRU system, right?” Quinn adds.Julia isn't Julie, but Quinn does act as another voice of sorts for the rail system: she’s in charge of Amtrak’s Twitter, an account that boasts 64,000 followers and has dashed off 78,400 tweets. (For perspective, that’s more than double what Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has typed and we’re pretty sure his hand is super-glued to his phone.)
The particularly chatty Amtrak Twitter account has hit a stride under the D.C.-based Quinn, who comes from a traditional PR background. She and her two cohorts, Blair Hammond and Alicia Lee, do about 70 percent of the tweeting, with the rest coming from 20 or so trained tweeters working out of Amtrak’s Philadelphia call center.
“For every at-message we try to have a response message because that is someone directly – basically it would be the same as me deciding to not pick up the phone if I was answering the 1-800 number,” Quinn says.
Now, of course, when the trains do get delayed, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with demand.
“When we get huge floods of conversation during things like delays, we try to just ramp up our push, right?” Quinn says. This means tweeting out broad-based information about which trains are delayed and why the delays are occurring. And having the call center people pitch in.
“So, explaining the story to a larger population because it’s just not physically possible to hit every conversation that’s coming through,” Quinn says.
And there is a way to filter all those tweets to find out if an “influencer,” as they’re called, is engaging with the transport company. But Quinn mainly tries to keep the engagement one-to-one.
“It’s great that Alicia Keys rides our Acela; it’s just as good that the average person rides. So we just want to make sure they feel as special as the celebrity who happens to be on our trains,” Quinn says.
Of the tweets they receive, Quinn says that about 30 to 40 percent are neutral.
“They’re just telling us they’re on the train,” she says.
About another 45 percent are positive.
“And then you have the negative conversation, too,” she says.
Having customers yell at you over the Internet doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
“You kind of feel like, well you know, take the good with the bad...and that keeps you motivated to continue to do what we’re doing,” Quinn says.
And many rail passengers just want information. They understand weather and understand delays, she added.
“I think it just goes back to the idea of transparency,” Quinn says.
The social media push includes Instagram as well. (By the way: #Amtrak bathroom selfies are apparently all the rage, Quinn told Whispers.) And the social focus is meant to attract a new generation to the trains.
“I don’t think you’ll ever replace Amtrak Joe,” Quinn says, giving a hat tip to train's most famous champion and commuter, the vice president.
Biden visited Philadelphia Thursday and posed for pictures inside the new Amtrak “Cities Sprinter” electric locomotive.
“I’m ready to roll,” Biden said.
Quinn hopes more people come to Amtrak with the same enthusiasm.
“We want that next Joe Biden," she says.