A few months ago I learned that the Maersk Line approach to social media is “radical”. I don’t see it that way. But I understand where it’s coming from: Our Social Media Team is rooted in Communication, not Marketing, and we therefore have a different approach to things.

We’re not trying to manufacture anything. Rather, we’re trying to tell the stories that are already there, including those that are important for the business to communicate, e.g. about our new incredible mega ships, our efforts to reduce bunker fuel consumption, our knowledge within refrigerated transport or simply the company history.

Apart from focusing on stories that are vivid, crisp and visual, it’s crucial that they are honest, down-to-earth and credible. Otherwise they don’t travel well in social media, if at all.

The exception that proves the rule: This timelapse is evidence that we do ‘manufacture’ stories a bit from time to time. Almost 1 million people have viewed it so far. 

Hire a journalist, not a marketer
You can look at it as corporate media or corporate journalism. And recently we discovered that our approach is similar to a new trend in the US and elsewhere where some companies are starting to hire journalists to tell their stories, rather than having the marketing department manufacture some stories for them.

The job of these corporate journalists is to go out, locate stories and tell them without compromising their journalistic integrity. They are to withstand the pressure when internal people from various projects approach them to have their ‘success’ story told. It’s the journalist’s call to decide when it is a success story and when it’s a ‘not-so-successful’ story that we can hopefully learn from.

With this approach you build trust, both within the organisation and towards external stakeholders such as the competitors, media, customers etc.

So, it’s part of a new trend. And the underlying reason for that trend is that social media and the new technologies enable companies to broadcast their own stories and rely less on external media to pick them up.

Being a broadcaster in our own right
In that respect, it was interesting when gCaptain published the story that Maersk Line, according to our Klout score, now has the most influential online presence in the industry, even surpassing media outlets such as Lloyd’s List and Journal of Commerce.

We are already broadcasters in our own right. And in the bigger scheme of things: we’ve gained influence and control by losing it (as some would term it), through social media.

What all of this requires is credibility. The ability to talk openly about your own mistakes, be self-critical and even to talk objectively about competition.

Nissan Motor Co. and the new business model
A good example of this trend in the works comes from Yokohama in Japan. That’s the hometown of Nissan Motor Co.

At Nissan, the company has built a full scale TV studio and produces a news program with veteran journalists from the BBC and elsewhere.

It produces news stories that sometimes feature its competitors, and it doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects such as Chinese protestors smashing up Nissan cars and other Japanese cars, in response to the dispute over the nationality of remote islands in the South China Sea.

Things are changing. Here’s a screen dump from an episode of Nissan’s “The Dashboard” on their Channel 23 TV where one of their biggest rivals is featured. A classic example of how social media and corporate journalism is changing the way companies think about marketing and communication.

Things are changing. Here’s a screen dump from an episode of Nissan’s “The Dashboard” on their Channel 23 TV where one of their biggest rivals Nissan is featured. A classic example of how social media and corporate journalism is changing the way companies think about marketing and communication.

Nissan’s news programmes are designed to be indistinguishable in content and quality from that of traditional news organisations.

When asked why Nissan has entered the business of corporate media instead of just sponsoring an existing news show, Simon Sproule, Head of Global Marketing at Nissan, has given the following answer:

“I don’t have the confidence that traditional news organisations will be able to survive the transition to the new business models. Why should I invest large amounts of money over the next few years in a failing enterprise?”

But one thing is the new way stories are produced. The move from self-promotion and marketing to journalism and storytelling with integrity. It’s quite a different game when you are to share these stories and ensure that they ‘fly’ in the social networks.

The social ‘twist’
What’s different about social media is often the way we ‘twist’ the stories. A long well-written article doesn’t hurt (in fact it adds depth, which is of course good), but we would most likely not share it in a traditional way, e.g. just posting it on the various networks.

It’s often the story within the story that makes it interesting, in connection with a photo or two.

For instance, let’s say a story from the DSME shipyard in Korea where they build the Triple-Es had been written. A story about the vessels’ waste heat recovery system, including an interview with Jacob Sterling and an engineer from the shipyard.

Here, we would look to see if the journalist came back with any interesting photos, e.g. a close-up of some thing in the waste heat recovery system or similar. We would then share that photo, maybe add a filter through Instagram, and write a very short text (less than 140 characters) commenting on the photo without disclosing too much.

A shortened link to the article would then be inserted afterwards, for those who would like to learn more.

And that’s just on Facebook. On the other networks (if we chose to share the story elsewhere) we would do it differently.

It’s like jazz: Improvising on top of a clearly defined structure
Above example makes clear that we cannot plan everything. In this example, it was all up to the photos that we got back from the shipyard. And that’s really how it works. To a large extent, we rely on the material that comes in and which we then curate and publish in an engaging way.

Sometimes the content will come from ourselves – our own journalists or bloggers, or our own photos, videos or campaigns – but more often than not the content comes from around the world, e.g. news sites, bloggers, our global organisation, photo and video sharing.

In other words, the most structured way of working with social media in a meaningful way is to combine an editorial calendar with the freedom to both respond and improvise. Constantly on the lookout for something interesting we can share which fits our approach and the overall direction of the company.

All of this also has to do with our conviction that social media is about communication, not marketing. Marketing implies pre-planning everything: that you know exactly what you are going to publish next Wednesday at 12 am, for example.

Miles Davis, a great improviser with an innate ability to reinvent himself throughout his career. As such he is a prime example of social creativity, i.e. the notion that we’re creating the social in every now, and that we need to be creative all the time in order to be successful in social life – as well as in social media.

Miles Davis, a great improviser with an innate ability to reinvent himself throughout his career. As such he is a prime example of social creativity, i.e. the notion that we’re creating the social in every now, and that we need to be creative all the time in order to be successful in social life – as well as in social media. Read my post about social creativity here.

As mentioned, some degree of pre-planning makes sense, especially when more than one person is involved in the process. But we also need to leave something for the ‘now’. That’s when it becomes vibrant and authentic. Like jazz. In jazz, the musicians are responding to what’s going on right now, to both the audience and what the other musicians are playing.

Also, if you, as a social media manager, publish ‘now’ you will be much more eager to see how your audience is reacting. And you will be better able to take that experience with you next time you post.