First Great Western

Staying ahead of digital change in a demanding industry


The evolution of digital media in the rail industry has happened quickly and powerfully. Increasing customer expectations of online customer service – and growing use of the mobile internet – have driven revolutionary changes in an industry characterised by the sometimes stormy relationships between passengers and operators.

Some train operating companies have risen to the challenge more readily than others. Following a digital engagement programme we ran with FirstGroup, the management of First Great Western wanted to ensure the company was heading in the right direction, with a clear social strategy and the right approach.

The FGW team were no social media beginners. They had already made amazing progress establishing a vibrant, human and helpful Twitter service with very limited resource. Now they wanted help to meet customer expectations in the right way over more of the week and develop a strategy and capacity to exceed and stay ahead of customer expectations in the longer term.

A thorough programme of connected initiatives

NixonMcInnes worked with the new head of social media and other key stakeholders at all levels of First Great Western’s business to uncover their business needs. We also reviewed customer insight to understand the nature of customer needs for information on social. We then audited FGW’s social presences, analysing the mix of marketing, customer service and operational information to identify strengths, what could be improved and where there were opportunities to build on.

Social strategy

We formulated a social strategy, drawing together the various needs of the business and building on its existing successes. This strategy now underpins all decisions around digital customer engagement and has created a platform for thinking in new ways about the customers’ experience now and in the future.

Twitter training and community management

Like most train operating companies, Twitter forms a key social channel for FGW, through which information is broadcast, questions are answered and the brand is expressed. With the introduction of new team members in-house and at an outsourced call centre, we worked closely with the head of social media to identify best practice processes and approach, and trained the team.

A key element of the work we’ve done with the team on Twitter has been around messaging during disruption. During significant delays, customers depend on information being provided quickly, accurately and with humanity. While it’s hard to eliminate the reasons behind disruption on the railway, we worked with the FGW team to find better ways to inform, explain and listen – making a measurable difference to the customer experience.

This was achieved by instilling good practice, a keen grasp of Twitter protocol and an approach to community management that enables FGW to direct resources to the customers that most need a quick response. By creating a process manual, the social media manager now confidently trains, coaches and mentors the wider team on an ongoing basis.

New structures

Digital media no longer belongs to any one department in an organisation. It brings together marketing, information, operations, PR, HR and other functions. We worked with the head of social media to create a new a ‘communities team’ – a cross-departmental group that is responsible for supporting her in the delivery of the strategy and bringing in the voice of the wider business.
The communities team’s key functions are to educate the business about the role of social, set, capture and report meaningful metrics tied back to the business strategy and create content. The team also shares social insight with the business and explores new innovations for spreading the social approach into the wider business.

Crisis comms

We supported the head of social media in reviewing the crisis comms plan to ensure it fully supports social media. We have also begun discussions with communications and operations departments about using social as a listening device to spot potential problems in real time, be they operational or customer experience related.

Ready for the future

At a pivotal time time in the UK rail industry, as operators and passengers face potential changes to the way rail is organised, First Great Western is moving into the future in a position of strength, knowing that its approach to digital is strong, flexible and sustainable.

FGW’s use of social platforms is widely recognised as an industry-leading example of good practice. The company’s social media manager has been invited to speak and write about her experiences and learnings, in recognition of what has been achieved with NixonMcInnes.

First Great Western has pioneered new ways of cross-departmental working, enhancing flexibility, resilience and the ability to innovate in an environment of constant change.

Image courtesy of Matt Buck