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  • Ann-Christin Korsing

🇬🇧 About "Opening Hours" and Strict Rules – How the BVG Tweets

*BVG – Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (German) stands for "Berlin Transport Company" and is the main public transport company in Berlin. It manages the underground railway (U-Bahn), tram, buses and ferrys. The company is known for its striking and cheeky communication on Twitter.

– For the German version please read the full article here 🇩🇪

In my search for Thoughts About PR, I recently approached PR practitioners across the North East of the U.K. to get their professional insight. However, I didn’t stop there. I went to the BVG headquarters in Berlin to interview the Press Officer and Head of Media Board, Petra Nelken, about the following topics:

  • The BVG’s forward-thinking plans with an app and a new Twitter account

  • How traffic information gets from the road and the rail to the passenger

  • The strict rules of communication on BVG Twitter Channels

1.) What are the BVG's corporate objectives?

"Of course we want to be a secure company, which will still exist in 30 years' time. In this respect, we have to do something to give the state Berlin no reason to give someone else the contract, because we are owned by the state of Berlin. Then, of course, mobility is changing today. Do you own a car?"

The BVG headquarters in Berlin
The BVG headquarters in Berlin (Photo credit: ThoughtsAboutPR)


"My three children are all around your age and none of them has a car. My eldest son, who owns a pretty well-known club, here in Berlin, doesn't have a car. So it's not a financial decision. He says he doesn't need it. He has a cargo bicycle. The car is no longer prestige in Berlin, it is a basic commodity. The car is also not condemned by us as a useful object. Obviously, when I am a mother of three and do my weekend shopping, I want to drive my car. Who wants to carry all the stuff? Nobody. But does it have to be my own car or can it be a car around the corner? We are now working harder to say: Public transport must be based on the classic – the bus, the tram and the underground – but a little more can be done in the future."

BVG Press Officer: Petra Nelken
BVG Press Officer: Petra Nelken (Photo credit: BVG/ Oliver Lang)

2.) With this vision in mind, what innovations can we expect from the BVG in the near future?

"We have been testing a ride-pooling service (BVG BerlKönig) recently. The bus departs from certain areas and then you can specify your location on the app and then will be picked up there. Berlin has a pretty good public transport system – actually you can get anywhere around the clock.

  • We are also currently working on an app that we want to launch in summer, in which we will link all these things together. My app learns my daily route and can access the weather forecast, maybe it will even access my health data. Now it would be funny if I look at my app in the morning and it says: "So you know, your cholesterol level is a little crappy. How about you walk today?" In the beginning, the app won't talk to me yet, but it's supposed to bring certain alternatives. The app could tell me for example if the traffic network is disrupted: "The connection has just collapsed, but if you get off here and change trains now, then you will get where you want to, via a detour".

  • We are currently setting up another Twitter channel that is independent from our means of transport. It will be about presenting the company and be used to recruit new employees. By the way, Deutsche Bahn (German railway company, headquartered in Berlin) does this in a very skilful way. They have two appearances on Facebook and they separate the two. However, we are recognised for Twitter."

3.) The BVG is generally known for its very distinctive and cheeky PR work – especially on social media. Please explain your approach on the Twitter platform.

"We've thought a long time about joining Twitter, because: Who tweets has to reply."

"That's right."

"And to reply immediately. We have several Twitter channels: One for each means of transport (@BVG_Ubahn, @BVG_Tram, @BVG_Bus and @BVG_BerlKoenig). If you are waiting at the bus stop and tweet: "I'm standing here at bus stop XY and why isn't the bus number 123 arriving?”, my colleague must be able to answer you: "Because exactly one kilometre away there was a serious accident – there is no possibility for the bus to pass by". Obviously, the colleague needs the information to be able to share theses figures. In other words, the people who respond to customers actually have technological access to every vehicle."

Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe Logo
Photo credit: ThoughtsAboutPR

4.) What rules have you established for Twitter so that, no matter which employee does the community moderation, they all communicate in the same way?

"You have to have hard rules. For example, we have "opening hours" because I said: We have to make it clear that you won't get an answer after a certain time, because we don't have a night shift."

"It's the same in the UK. The Tyne and Wear Metro, for example, also has such “opening hours” on Twitter, but there’s no metro after midnight until the next morning anyway. Unlike in Berlin, where you have a 24/7 system …"

"At the beginning I said: Before we tweet, we have to build up a team and be fit. The campaign channel (@BVG_Kampagne) is done by an agency. In the beginning it was partly the case that they called me if they had any questions. I said: "We can't always call an editorial conference and think about what you answer”. Therefore, I implemented the rule: "Only tweet what you would tweet to your mother, sister or best friend and when you wouldn't be mad yourself if you got such a tweet". We can only coordinate things that can be planned: "Watch out, the line will be closed for three weeks now, a lot of people will get upset". You can coordinate those things, but Twitter is actually what's happening now. As I said, if you are not sure, then you shouldn’t tweet. There’s the strict rule: You have to answer."

5.) What if your colleagues come across a Twitter request they can't answer?

"You can also answer: "I don't know". That's no problem either or answer: "I don't know right now, but I'm trying to figure it out". That’s okay, but not answering – that doesn't work at all. Don’t use it, just because it's a "hip medium" – if I don't master it: stay away!"

A big thank you goes to Petra Nelken. If you would like to read about how the BVG communicated the world's first women's transport ticket, please click here. ––––– To learn more about ThoughtsAboutPR, visit my Twitter account @ThoughtsAboutPR and follow me on Instagram @Thoughts_About_PR.

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