Danish Railways or DSB, in short, is the largest Danish rail company operating the railways in Denmark and S-train services for commuters in and around the Danish capital region of Copenhagen. With more than 195 million passengers every year, DSB is an independent public corporation owned by the Danish Ministry of Transport. Due to distances in Denmark and its extensive railway network, the country is ideally suited to explore by train. Various cities and regions outside of Copenhagen can easily be reached and are also ideal for day trips, especially when visiting the capital to see a bit more of Denmark as a destination. Being a public transport provider, DSB faces growing competition and the need to convince consumers to take the train instead of a bus or car.
DSB have three major customer groups which are daily commuters, tourists who visit Copenhagen and travel around Denmark as well as interrail customers wanting to explore several countries in Europe as part of a trip. Having to cater to the needs of various types of customers, DSB has a huge communication and branding challenge at hand, having to respond to incidents such as delays or problems with the railway network while informing international visitors about the best ways to travel throughout Denmark. DSB's communications and branding team have their work cut out wanting to sell tickets provide excellent customer service and manage any problems or challenges quickly. With the emergence of digital, DSB had to respond quickly and adapt their communications and marketing practices to cater to consumer needs and expectations.
We interviewed Mette Willert, Creative Content Manager, and David Lohmann, Social Data Manager at DSB to learn more about how the Danish Railways are trying to innovate with their marketing and communications using social media, creative content and working closely with influencers to market the interrail product to Danish consumers.
Being a public transport provider, DSB is challenged with its reputation, being perceived as an unreliable company due to delays. Each year, DSB has to carry out extensive track works, often over several days at a time, being an inconvenience for consumers. Huge efforts are made to improve the reputation and overall perceptions among the 200,000 daily customers. However, DSB faces major challenges each day with delays and other incidents that are out of their control.
In 2016, DSB introduced a social media strategy, taking advantage of social to change perceptions and improve reputation. The goal is to communicate and listen to the audience, gather feedback to try and constantly improve the overall service and customer satisfaction. The idea is also to provide feedback internally about products and how those could be improved. Through social media, DSB measures how people perceive the brand and consider it a unique opportunity to change and improve the existing brand perceptions. By monitoring social media interactions in real-time on a daily basis, DSB aims to actively engage and communicate with followers and customers to improve the daily satisfaction with DSB as an organisation and their services.
In addition to monitoring social media sentiments, DSB is also carrying out quarterly customer satisfaction surveys, questioning customers on a range of things relating to products, customer service and overall satisfaction. However, each of these surveys takes time and the results are only useful to understand how their brand performed in the past. The results are used to inform the teams about any content that could be relevant to share on social media. While DSB can make changes based on customer satisfaction results and feedback, it is the social media interactions in real-time that enable the organisation to get an instant answer from users that often represent actionable opportunities for the teams.
Social media strategy
The process to develop a social media strategy started in April 2016 by assigning a dedicated project manager to gather all of the information across the organisation and its five departments. While many of the departments worked in silos, it was key to develop something that could be applied across all departments and relates directly to day to day operations. The communications & branding team already have a communication strategy in place that gives them a direction until 2020. By looking at how this can be applied to the social media strategy through a social context and make it workable for the teams, DSB is now implementing a social media strategy for the entire organisation. The strategy and toolbox help to make the strategy operational for each of their social media channels.
The social media strategy and development process involved various departments, highlighting what the social media team is working on and what impact this has for the entire organisation. This process opened up cross-departmental collaboration and a closer involvement of various departments in the social media activities. The social media team is now implementing the strategy and backed up by the CEO committed to the strategy. Getting the buy-in of the top management was vital to implement the strategy openly and communicate the value that social media brings to the organisation. This was a necessity to ensure the strategy could help to improve customer satisfaction, impacting positively on brand perceptions and ultimately support conversions.
A fundamental aspect of DSB's communication approach is the goal to improve reputation through loyalty. In practice, this means establishing DSB as a trustworthy brand focusing on some key principles when communicating with consumers online. A key part of that is the concept of humanising the brand by being authentic in all communications and content. DSB needs to be on eye level with consumers and understand and know the people that follow the brand and adapt the content accordingly.
DSB had to learn to open up with its communications and letting people know what DSB is doing, informing and communicating any delays, train cancellations to help consumers understand what DSB is working on. The organisation is now taking a proactive approach to its social media communication. Being in the public eye, DSB is faced with quite challenging social 'shitstorms' at times, when things do go wrong and consumers are sharing their negative experiences, contributing to more and more negative comments and mentions. However, for DSB, it is important to openly communicate about incidents and share what went wrong - this has helped to avoid things spiralling out of control.
DSB is an old organisation but on a journey to open up its communication by leading the way in terms of showing value and results for the organisation. Social media can be a huge support for their staff on the ground to alleviate pressure on the organisation. The social media team delivers customer service and is responding to customer enquiries. This meant that DSB had to grow the social customer service team and extend opening hours to be available for customers over extended periods each day.
DSB is using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat extensively to distribute relevant content to different target groups. The content for each channel is focused on meeting the interests and needs of its audience and preferred formats. DSB has two Facebook accounts, dividing all content into a matrix of four categories focusing on:
- activation - 10 % of all content focuses on engaging consumers through quizzes or fun pop-up events on the train
- sales communication - focus on selling tickets or promoting interrail products
- traffic information - communicating traffic updates, railway updates and any delays
- community content - 50% of all content focus on specific community stories of the week that are time relevant
DSB uses its Snapchat account mostly to show a fun side of the organisation and brand catering to young people that might also use the Facebook page to get offers and focus on content in line with their interests or answering specific questions on Snapchat. In comparison to that, Instagram is predominantly used for visual storytelling, focusing the feed on reposting pictures of users, as they produce great content. In bi-weekly editorial meetings, the team aims to plan all content four weeks ahead, creating a solid structure for social content.
To market DSB's Interrail product, the team worked a lot with influencers, Youtubers, Instagrammers and bloggers. As part of a recent campaign, DSB gave a 15% discount on a global Interrail Pass enabling customers to travel to 30 European countries. The campaign targeted specific audiences such as youngsters or students, mature people and senior people. Especially in the senior target segment, DSB saw a high conversion of tickets. In total over 1 million people saw the promoted posts on Facebook resulting in three times higher ticket sales in comparison to the previous year.
In addition to that, DSB sent two Instagrammers on an Interrail trip around Europe to produce a huge amount of content which could then be shared in the future for marketing purposes. As part of the mission, the Instagrammers also did a takeover of Instagram stories on DSB's account. For the communications team, it was great to see how creatives are using the medium to create meaningful stories. For the first time, DSB also asked the two influencers to do a Facebook Live through the DSB account, sharing relevant information about Interrail tickets, how it works and answer any questions customers had. This gave DSB useful content input on what consumers are interested in or looking for.
Measuring Social Media
Naturally, it is an important area for DSB to measure all social media activities carefully. Various teams are working on using the organisation's customer content measurement system to talk to customers on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to that, brand managers use the tool to measure how well their campaign is performing and what improvements are needed. DSB is measuring its success on social media by setting KPIs focused on establishing the return on investment, impressions, click-through rates and conversions. The marketing department also looks into when consumers are buying products and who is making a purchase. Google Analytics provides useful insights into traffic and any developments or changes.
As part of the editorial meetings, the team highlight the best performing posts from previous weeks, looking at how they worked, how people engaged with them and what can be learned from the posts. DSB's media company of record also shares how dark posts are performing on Facebook. Monthly reports on sales and customer service enable the team to see how people perceive the brand and how many interactions are taking place which is also shared with the CEO.
For DSB, it is really useful to gather feedback on campaigns and promotions to improve product sales and inform what content needs to be produced and shared. With a focus on actionable insights, this helps DSB to justify and explain why social media is needed. The editorial meetings are critical to question the purpose of activities and results, ensuring things are translated correctly into social media content, fit for the medium.
DSB's focus and attitude towards content and social media are on point, approaching this new era of communication in a fresh and sometimes unconventional way. By using various communication channels, DSB can adapt its messaging accordingly, showcasing content in a way that speaks to the audience and presents DSB as an authentic and human brand.
Having worked extensively with influencers, DSB share some valuable recommendations based on the promotion of their interrail product. It is absolutely critical to have a good relationship with any influencer when working on a project, as you need to be able to fully trust them with your account and your investment in them as content creators. As a brand, it is vital that an influencer understands what you want to achieve to make the content around the brand authentic. Getting influencers and content creators to take over your account and produce stories or a Live session can be really valuable for your brand but again it is a huge trust you put into an ambassador rather than an employee of your organisation.
For DSB, the end result of working with influencers on creating live content was really good, having a range of content they can utilise now for their own marketing and communication activities. Each influencer has such a unique approach when working with stories, images or videos, that it can pay off to invest in a completely different perspective or content approach. However, this was only achieved by setting a clear brief and working in close collaboration with the influencers. Having a direct dialogue rather than working through an agency also meant a much more personal relationship, receiving on brand content, having a good copyright agreement in place, being able to buy additional video or image content.
DSB also experimented with new tools and found that Instagram stories were particularly powerful when working on content with a destination branding and interrail product context. Video is certainly the future for DSB, letting others tell the story and positioning the organisation as an authentic brand. Finding the right influencers that fit your brand is vital, as they need to translate what the brand stands for, bringing in the personality of the influencer and unique perspectives. Facebook live is a great opportunity for brands to let others take over, get customers and people answer questions.
As a team, Mette and David are trying to push the limits of being quite a traditionally structured and operating brand by tapping into new technology. Although it is impossible for them to plan everything all the time, it is important to step out of the comfort zone, as one can then make the biggest steps to progress. Throughout their communication journey so far, DSB learned a lot and are now considering creating a dedicated studio to produce even more useful and engaging content. Technology is now making social media and content creation much more accessible by using a phone, editing on the go and still achieving good quality content.
In the future, DSB will work on maximising the viewing time and consumer engagement further, working on improving and building their brand perceptions. The team is currently working on a 360 and virtual reality project, using new technology to find new ways of telling a story and at the same time find new opportunities for destination branding.