Snapchat to chatbots: social storytelling helps Germany’s army march forward

1 minute read

Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defence turned to social media to build its employer brand and help halt a serious decline in recruitment numbers. In doing so, it created one of the country’s most successful social media projects

Sian Harrington

What do you do when a 50-year flow of talent stops overnight? Why, you turn to social media of course.

In 2011 Germany’s army, the Bundeswehr, faced a profound change when compulsory military service was suspended after half a century. As Dirk Feldhaus, Federal Ministry for Defence representative for employer brand communication, says, it suddenly found itself out in the market, competing for talent.

The problem was it needed to find 25,000-30,000 recruits a year. Overlay this with political and social sensitivity about the military in Germany, and it looked like a large mountain to climb.

After research found that its target 17-15 age group engaged most readily online, the Bundeswehr decided on a strategy based on storytelling. It created a YouTube documentary called Die Rekruten (The Recruits) following 12 marines as they underwent their first three months of training. Each day a four to seven-minute episode would be screened, giving an authentic view of the lives of the 12 marines.

So popular has the show been, with more than 44 million views, it was rolled out to public television and a second mini-series, Mali, was created.

This shows everyday life in a German army camp in Mali. As well as daily episodes on YouTube, the series is shared through highlights on Instagram; live events, story teasers and tests on Facebook; interviews and geofilters on Snapchat and using a chatbot in Messenger  to keep fans up to date.


Bundeswehr Mali Bot

The campaign has attracted more than 440,000 fans and subscribers on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and 2.1 million Snapchat lens users. More intriguingly, the Mali playlist title song made it to number one in the Spotify viral charts and the Mali bot became the largest German language bot.

The social campaign has led to a 20% rise in applications to the military. To help deal with the numbers, the Bundeswehr created Jobbot. This chatbot answers questions such as how do I sign up? What age do I need to be? How much can I earn and what roles are there? These make up 80% of all potential applicants’ questions.

To date, Jobbot has 5,415 subscribers and has answered 17,319 questions – an average of 197 per day.

According to Feldhaus, the drop-out rate in training has also decreased significantly. He attributes this to applicants having a more realistic view of life in the army.

Dirk Feldhaus was speaking at the UNLEASH18 conference and expo in March 2018 in London, UK
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