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The Big Brand Theory: How Maersk Grew Social Media Influence in the Shipping Industry

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If you pass through a shipping port or train yard, it’s likely you’ll see the logo, with its iconic seven-pointed star. Back in the 1880s, company founder captain Peter Mærsk-Møller used the star symbol to celebrate his wife’s recovery from an illness. Today, the company is a global conglomerate of shipping and oil and gas companies, with annual revenues of over 55 billion dollars. The Maersk Line, a principle division within the group is the largest global shipping company, with over 600 container ships. In fact, if you lined up all the Maersk Line shipping containers in a row, they would reach half way around the world.

The idea of lining up shipping containers might be farfetched, but if you did you could be sure there would be a lot of people watching and posting photos to Instagram and Facebook. The company’s Facebook profile has over one million likes! When the company posts an image or link on their wall, there are usually hundreds of shares, over a thousand likes, and dozens if not hundreds of comments. It turns out, there are a lot of people in the world who are enthusiasts for shipping containers and cargo ships.

ImageJonathan Wichmann (@JonathanWich) is the Maersk Line head of social media, and up until a couple of months ago, comprised the social media department.  Jonathan told me that there were many naysayers who didn’t think the organization had much hope in social media; that the maritime industry is conservative and known for its secrecy. At the same time, though, the company employs thousands of seafarers who are away from home for long stretches of time – perhaps a perfect environment for social media use.

Storytelling

It’s probably not a coincidence that Wichmann, himself, studied literature and is a published author. He has a strong sense of storytelling, and that storytelling is central to Maersk Line social media. Wichmann says, “even though we’re a B2B company, there’s a real visual side to it, moving goods from one part of the world to another through beautiful landscapes; so we have an extensive archive of great photos; rich history and story to be told. There’s a basic story about being home, and away, then home again, moving through landscapes.”

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With 325 offices around the world covering 140 countries, Maersk also has the advantage of its scale with global reach. As Wichmann adds, “when people see a Maersk ship or container [there is a] tendency to take a photo.” The ubiquity of camera phones has become a natural source of content. With all of this energy and enthusiasm around the photos, employees have come to realize that working in the industry of giant container ships isn’t so tedious or boring.

Return on Investment

Marketers are frequently called upon to justify the allocation of dollars to social media. On being asked the question, Wichmann responds with enthusiasm, “it doesn’t make sense in the beginning to calculate ROI. The real value isn’t what you achieve in the first few months; it’s a cultural change; getting ready for a future that is digitalized and social.”  

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While Maersk can certainly point to real cultural change, particularly in how employees feel about their jobs and industry, there have also been some other benefits to which real value can be assigned. While major media and trade publications have been telling the story of the shipping industry for over a hundred years, Maersk has taken a leadership position in social media within the industry.

Maersk doesn’t just share the happy stories, either.  Wichmann says that in order to be credible, it’s important to share the negative stories as well. The net result being that they are major influencers in how the news about the shipping industry is told. Wichmann asks, “How do you measure being the most influential in this industry? If I would have asked management two years ago what they would have paid to attain that position, they wouldn’t have believed it could be done.”

As Wichmann says, “It’s an example of how you can not really tell where value will come from when you first start. If you chase short term ROI; you’re missing out; it’s more about mindset than just sales.”

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The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.

Join The Conversation

  • Ava Cristi's picture
    Aug 6 Posted 3 years ago Ava Cristi

    Social media is for everyone. It is not a surprise that the shipping industry has become part of this kind of marketing campaign. His story is very enlightening especially to maritime devotees. The way they document their voyages and share them through means of social media keeps the storytelling kinetic—that in itself is quality content.

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