Unlocking the full potential of social media: Maersk Line’s social media study (part 1)

Part of the #maersk Instagram picture“What in the world is a container shipping company doing in the social media?!” We have been asked this question repeatedly since we announced our presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram almost a year and a half ago.

The short answer is: because it adds value to the bottom line. Had this not been the case, we would (almost) not have any reason to be there.

Until now, social media have primarily been the domain of our communication department, but we are currently moving into the second phase of our strategy which will involve incorporating them into the actual business.

In order to determine what role social media should play in our business in the long term, we recently completed a study. In addition to evaluating our current value creation, this study also outlines our next step.

The cover of Maersk Line's Social Media Study 2012
The cover of Maersk Line’s Social Media Study 2012 entitled “The Next Step: How to unlock the full potential of social media”.

Over the next few weeks, I will attempt to extract the key aspects of the study in a number of blog posts.

But before we get to the study itself, it makes sense to outline what we have done to date, during the first phase of the programme.

So that’s what my next post will be about.

Maersk Line’s 10 social media commandments (or: how we work with social media, more or less)

REFINA_MAERSK_441505a(Below is a follow-up on the previous post, “The Media Miracle in Maersk Line”. It’s the English translation of Maersk Line’s “10 social media commandments” which Danish comms site Kforum.dk asked me to write.)

§1 It’s communication, not marketing
It sounds simple, but it’s not. This is where most people get it wrong. Most companies – and their agencies – simply don’t understand the premise itself, namely that social media are the users’ domain. It’s akin to a dinner party. Marketing therefore doesn’t work, unless one would like to avoid being invited back the next time around. Be honest and engaging and ensure that you are on an equal level. Don’t create designed, marketing-oriented stories. It has to be simple and authentic.

§2 Do it yourself
At Maersk Line I have pretty much done it all myself. I was given the mandate to do it and then took ownership of the project as anyone else would. My boss was completely confident about my strategy once it had been approved, and the fact that social media platforms are so easy to use means that you don’t need outside help. Besides, it comes across as untrustworthy when an agency posts messages on behalf of a company. You have to be in the thick of what happens at the company and be able to pick up stories and trends from there. This enables you to react immediately and to avoid having to wait for the agency to conclude a meeting with another client first. Finally, you have to be passionate about it and ‘live it’ every day.

§3 Keep costs down
I would imagine that the amount we spent had a lot to do with why we won “Social Media Campaign of the Year”. Since everything has been created internally, we haven’t spent more than just under USD 80,000 in a year and three months. This has been spent on advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, on a so-called publishing tool and on some tabs on Facebook. We have done the rest ourselves.

§4 Don’t be afraid
You don’t know yourself and your audience until you get started. So you will need to feel your way. And you have to keep testing. Outline a sound strategy and some ideas in advance, but be prepared to learn and make adjustments constantly. An interesting aspect of social media is that you get feedback immediately, which means that the learning curve can be very steep. What works where and how for us? Which stories are relevant to both us and our target groups? I have set up profiles on various networks pretty much to suit my own preference. I have just thrown myself into it.

§5 Improvise
People tend to think that this aspect of what I do is far-fetched. But I haven’t planned a single post throughout the entire year that we have been doing this. You just sit down at the keyboard or use your mobile phone when there is something to say and then you do it as well as you can. Conversely, if you plan to send out a certain story next Wednesday at 12:00, it then turns into a marketing exercise. Then you lose the moment. And then you (or the agency) also spend too much time on it.

§6 It has to be simple and visual
There is a reason why Twitter has limited tweets to 140 characters each. It’s because there is practically no one who wants to read much more than that. Don’t convince yourself that everything you have to say – or your company has to say – is exciting. The users decide whether to spend time reading your post, or not, in a split second, based on a combination of what is said in the first few words and whether they usually find the company’s information relevant. And then there is the visual aspect: a good photo can change everything (fortunately, Maersk Line has a lot of fantastic photos).

§7 Tell stories
One of the growing trends at the moment is that companies have started to hire corporate journalists. It’s about ditching the marketing plans and taking on people who can unearth and tell stories in a lively and credible way. And this includes both good and bad news. Or rather, it’s not about being positive versus negative. It’s just about telling a good story that reflects reality. It is therefore also imperative that the company really is ‘good’ and has nothing to hide. Otherwise this wouldn’t be the smartest approach.

§8 Ensure the organisation is behind it
The most important element of being responsible for the social media is to ensure buy-in from the rest of the organisation. Having a few people engaged in it in isolation doesn’t work. Social media and technologies have a lot to offer any company – and they could even be seen as introducing a paradigm shift. In the ‘old’ days, people in business were convinced that it was important to keep one’s knowledge close to one’s chest in order to avoid losing power or status. Today, people have increasingly come to realise that the better you are at sharing your knowledge, the more influence and status you have. And that way of thinking and working should preferably spread throughout the entire organisation, and thus enable social technologies to optimise the way people think and work. Another reason why it is important to ensure the organisation’s buy-in is that its users (the company’s fans, followers, etc.) would like to meet its employees. People need to see a face behind the company. By making the company more human, you start to build credibility and trust with your customers. In addition to this, one’s colleagues can help answer questions posed to the company on Twitter, for example.

§9 No mass distribution
When a company such as Maersk Line has a presence on ten platforms, people might be led to believe that this must result in ‘mass distribution’, i.e. that we share the same content everywhere and, in reality, just push impersonal messages out to the public. In fact, the opposite is true. We have a presence on all of those platforms because it makes sense for us. We are there because we want to communicate and because we are curious. If this had been all about campaigns, we would actually not have been on so many platforms. If that was the case, we would rather have targeted a certain target group on a specific platform. When I see a company that participates in a relatively small number of platforms, I take it as a sign that they are there with a campaign approach in mind: “Let’s do a Facebook campaign, that would be cool.” My advice in that regard is: be where your presence feels natural. But you should only participate on as many platforms as you can cope with and you need to allow for the vastly different forms of expression and target groups on various sites.

§10 Build on what you have done
My final suggestion is: keep pushing the envelope and testing the limits of what social media and technologies can do for the company, but make sure to also test the water. We just finalised a larger scale study on social media and where we are going with it. And there is much evidence to suggest that social media will, on this basis, soon spread to departments such as Customer Service, Sales, HR, etc. And yet we still adhere to a ‘lean’ set-up. It is not about building something big, but about building it correctly. In this case that means across the organisation. There will be no NASA-type command centre, although that could look pretty awesome.

This last point is probably the principal doctrine of ours, namely that “Lean is Fun”.

Maersk on Facebook: A balance between openness and trust

Here’s an article that was featured on ShippingWatch.dk last month. Great to see that people are paying attention. You can read it here. There’s also a related article from the day before (included in the printed version on Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten).
 

Maersk on Facebook: A balance between openness and trust

Since Maersk Line joined Facebook, shared trust and greater transparency has been needed, and more so than the employees of the old company have been used to in the past. So says Jonathan Wichmann, the man behind Maersk’s active use of social media.

BY JAKOB VESTERAGER

Maersk Line’s solid position within the social media has at times been a balance between opening up to the public and keeping with the management’s reliance on Maersk Line’s name not becoming tainted, explains Jonathan Wichmann, Head of Social Media for Maersk Line.

“Social media is about sharing and thinking a little differently than how the employees of Maersk Line have been used to. Back then, if you had knowledge of something or a question about something, you would probably not share that with others. But now people are starting to realize that just because you explain how to do something, that does not mean everybody will start copy you. Only you grow smarter together,” says Jonathan Wichmann.

Maersk Line is trying to do just that by being present on a number of social media sites on which the company has set up forums for people in the industry as well as a Facebook page, on which the company has more than 300.000 followers. Jonathan Wichmann handles Maersk Line’s presence on the social media sites by himself, and about half of his working hours are spent on this task.

Credibility

Wichmann is not scared that the open strategy will lead to negative publicity. He believes that the openness gives a company like Maersk Line more credibility, especially if you also upload things that are not altogether positive. For instance, Wichmann insisted that Maersk Line upload a picture of the ship Maersk Norwich which ran into a whale in early June.

“I had to persuade some people that we should do it even though it was not a positive thing. It is not a picture attesting our greatness – after all we collided with a whale. But it is probably the post which has been shared the most. It is an important parameter to consider when you want to reach as many people as possible,” says Jonathan Wichmann, who explains that he and others often monitor what the followers on Facebook write about a given picture.

“I am not anxious at all, but then again, I am not a Maersk man. Yet, from the beginning, it has been a kind of exercise in trust on part of the management. They thought ‘now we will try and see how it goes and see if you can work with us.’ If I do something that backfires then the trust is broken a little, but slowly they start to become more at ease with the situation and they see that it actually is not so bad when we write about the negative stuff and provide a more realistic picture of our company. It only makes us more credible.”

When Wichmann joined Maersk Line a little more than half a year ago, he had not dared to hope he would get the opportunity to launch a strategy for the social media as extensive as it actually became.

“I was unsure of how much they would let me work with it because it is such a large organization. So I did a presentation the first week I was there, it was for then CCO Hanne B. Sørensen and she approved it immediately. I went to work on Twitter, Facebook etc. and after two weeks, it was already set in motion. The management was a little skeptical and watched the number of friends on Facebook, but we got 13.000 friends in a very short amount of time and I think that convinced them to support the project,” says Jonathan Wichmann. Today, Hanne B. Sørensen is CEO of Maersk Tankers.

Facebook – a fad?

So far there has not been a lot of competition amongst shipping companies within the social media, and not many companies have a Facebook page or any other social media site. But Jonathan Wichmann is sure that most are considering it.

“CMA CGM has created a Facebook page, but not a lot is happening on there. They do not use it actively. I think there are a lot of people looking at us. I can feel them here and there. I think they are sitting there going ‘is this just a fad or should we do the same?’”

“Right now, social media is a fad but that is the way it is with all new things. But I think the social media is spreading and on the way to becoming a standard for how you do things in real life. Being part of a company and understanding the mechanisms of social media before our competitors is an advantage and likely to stay that way,” says Jonathan Wichmann.

Why 300,000 fans on Facebook could turn out to be worthless

Mark Zuckerberg on stage, talking about engagement.
But just how engaging is Facebook really?
(Image credit: news.cnet.com).

(This blog post was originally published on Maersk Line’s intranet)

By Jonathan Wichmann, Head of Social Media, Maersk Line

People just can’t help themselves. The crowds are cheering. The media is telling the story (even the shipping press). Experts are using it as a best practice case. It’s even in the Mærsk Post.

In short, everyone (almost) I meet tells me how amazing it is.

I’m of course talking about social media.

Of course, I appreciate all this attention and enthusiasm. But we risk missing the point if we focus too hard on the numbers.

Why? Because social media is not just about being popular and getting attention. Having a lot of fans is valuable (and it means that we prioritise our social media interactions), but the real value (for the business) of social media has to do with high quality engagement.

The value of social media

In theory, the value of one interaction can be worth more than 300,000 likes on Facebook.

Let me give you an example:

On LinkedIn we’ve created a group called ‘The Shipping Circle’. Here, we’ve invited shipping experts to join discussions about the future of the industry.

Some of the members have written long and very insightful posts about what we could do next in order to remain at the top of the shipping game.

What I’m trying to say is that it is a real possibility that just one single good idea from here could turn out to be worth millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Compare this to the value of a ‘like’ on Facebook.

It’s a way of thinking

For a company like ours social media creates most value when it challenges the way we think and interact. In fact, social media is a mindset, a way of thinking and working together. It’s based on the fact that we are social animals, and that means we can only benefit from sharing our thoughts and ideas with each other.

This leads me to the most brilliant part of social media: it doesn’t discriminate. The housebound and the shy are as visible as the active and the outspoken. Even those who are not very social in real life can share their thoughts too.

Maersk Line can definitely benefit from this. Time will tell when and where.

An article by J. Boye about, well, my work for Maersk Line.

Last week I was phoned up by Janus Boye who is the CEO and founder J. Boye “the international community for web & internet professionals”. In other words, a quite influential blogger on things like internet and not least social media.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that Janus is a Dane, but he had nevertheless noticed the recent success of Maersk Line within social media. And he found it to be interesting and even surprising, given the fact that Maersk Line is a B2B company in a quite conservative industry. The background being that B2B companies have struggled for years to find meaning in and reasons to engage with social media.

In a way, we in Maersk Line have somehow succeeded in paving the way for other B2B companies. Quite flattering if you think about it. And maybe stretching it a bit too far.

You can read the article Janus wrote here.

The future of social media

From the early topic-based Internet to the egocentric digital network connecting people rather than homepages. In a few words, that’s the development we’ve witnessed the past 15-20 years. But what’s next? And what if we look ten years ahead?

This can only be a game of qualified guessing. It’s a cliché… but we never know exactly what lies ahead. Or to quote Jim Morrison: “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near”. A statement you cannot argue with.

But returning to the topic of the future of social media you could say, as Austen Mayor does on socialmediatoday.com, that we’re already in the future: “social media as an industry is very well versed and experienced.”

However, there’s no doubt that we’ll see social media and web-network technologies grow immensely the next two years. There’s plenty of room for improvements and growth. Geolocation is one prominent area where we’ve only seen the beginning.

Augie Ray discusses this issue in this interesting interview:

And ten years from now?

If we look ten years ahead the way of interacting and communicating introduced by social media will be the standard. Simply because the decisions makers in societies will be part of a generation where social media is the DNA.

This also entails that technology will become more sophisticated and almost invisible.

We tend to forget it but technology is not a goal in itself, only a means to an end. And the ‘end’ is ‘the community’, i.e. a network that enables us to connect with each other in more optimal, efficient and meaningful ways.

For companies, marketers etc. this will mean a move away from ‘channel thinking’ towards ‘relationship thinking’. We’re already talking about relationship building, and has been for a number of years, but the ‘channel thinking’ is still pre-dominant. Today, it seems no one disagrees with the need for multi-channel approaches.

But the channel thinking is basically sign of us still being at a early stage of the evolution of social media. Let’s hope we can pass that stage one day not too far away.

Three stages/decades visualized

Below you find three visuals describing the three stages mentioned above.

1) The early technology-oriented and topic-centered years with homepages, AltaVista.com etc. (the 90’s)

2) Web 2.0 and the rise of  social media (the 00’s) (companies on the sideline)

3) Technology made invisible, network prevails, companies are an integrated part of the network (targeted messages, less or no mass communication) (the 10’s?)

The social media landscape 2011

A new center has formed

I just came across Fred Cavazza’s updated overview of the social media landscape. By mapping the main players in/on the field and studying user behavior across the various channels, an actual center has now formed, according to Cavazza. And in the center we find… Google and Facebook.

To most, this is probably not very surprising. However, when you think about it, his new landscape model alters our standard perception of Facebook as ‘merely’ being a place where people can connect and share details about their lives via updates, posts, likes, movies, photos etc.

Facebook is becoming more like Google. The place where you start your digital journey. A form of navigator.

A new way to navigate

Why is it so? For two reasons, I suppose. 1) Because of the sheer size of the media/network (more than 750 million users); 2) Because the users are getting more and more accustomed to navigate according to social recommendations and interactions (“my friend is doing this and that, so I will do the same and check out what this link or story is all about”).

(It’s surely not because of the search engine functionalities of Facebook. They are not worth talking about, as far as I can see. But again, that’s due to media’s dependence on its social structure.)

So the user behavior is changing towards using social recommendations as a first step.

The end of the portal?

I can understand why. Google is so objective in it’s suggestions (in spite of Adwords, SEO etc.) that you need to be pre-occupied with something in order to benefit from it. You basically need to know what you’re looking for, in advance.

However, it’s not that we don’t need Google any more. Unlike many others, I don’t see Google and Facebook as competitors.

Those who should be worried about this behavioral change driven by Facebook are portals, news sites and similar, i.e. the sites users would normally go to in order to get updated on what’s going on in the world. And in order to get entertained.

A wake-up call for B2B companies…

Moreover, this tendency should underline the importance for companies to be present on e.g. Facebook. Many companies are of course already there, but most B2B companies still continue to struggle to see why it’s relevant for them. And how they can benefit.

So here’s the answer: Facebook has become the starting point for many, many users. And it’s therefore difficult to apply a multi-channel approach without a decent Facebook Page.

Getting started

… with a starting point

I ask myself: What would be interesting to know more about? What’s going on out there that I would want to know, but don’t know yet?

And so it all begins.

Social media

Let’s start with social media. I would like to know more about the social media landscape globally. I would like to get to the bottom of this phenomenon.

First, is it a phenomenon, or is it just a name for the way digital medias are organised today, i.e. user-centric? How does the social media landscape look globally? What does it mean for our lives? And what does it truly mean in terms of the way we communicate with each other? What kind of implications does it have for companies? And where are we heading?

Based on that, it would be far easier to grasp the current state of the social media phenomenon. And to come to terms with the future developments.

That being said, the digital landscapes are characterized by their ever-changing nature. New ideas and developments happen at such a high speed that we all need to filter them in order to make some sort of sense of it.

And that’s a theme by itself: Transformation. The speed of life has increased dramatically during the past decade.

Storytelling

Eternal acceleration is of course not a universal truth. Take the area of storytelling, for example. Here, the good old discipline of telling a story that’s engaging, beautiful, erotic, humorous, exciting, scary, surprising, empathetic etc. is as promising and necessary as ever. Even though the possibilities and premises for telling a story has changed with the availability of new digital medias, techniques, equipment and ways of communicating.

So there’s still plenty to explore within the storyteller’s field.

For example: What is the key to successful online storytelling? What can we hope to achieve by telling a story? Has the anatomy of storytelling changed? Is it changing all the time, or will “the good story” remain forever young?

The answer to some of the latter questions might seem obvious, to some. And to me, I think.

But closure is a thing of the past. Today, we need to re-open all the thoughts and notions we have on a specific topic. It must change. And it does.

Maybe that’s one of the biggest achievements of the digital world. That it has emphasized the fact that nothing is dead.

We inhabit a world full of both opportunity and risk. It’s wide open.

Maybe Heidegger was right after all?

Research. Insights. Reflections. Ideas.

About “The Digital Blueprint”

This site is meant as a place where I can accumulate and keep track of my work with communications in the digital age.

It’s a well-known fact that we need to filter, process, reflect and not least articulate in order to make the most of what we experience. Or as David Bowie states in the song “Fantastic Voyage” from his album Lodger (1979): “I got to write it down, but I’m still being educated.” I would re-phrase that and say “because we’re being educated every day.”

So what, more specifically, is it that I’m writing down on this site?

Broadly speaking, it’s research, insights, reflections and ideas regarding the ever-changing digital landscapes that most of us are somehow trying to manoeuvre our way through on a daily basis.

For me, it’s also an integral part of my daily job as chief copywriter on a medium-sized digital agency in Copenhagen, Denmark. A job that’s basically about providing strategy, concept and content (copy, film) for the various digital communication channels, e.g. social media, websites and apps.

To see my LinkedIn profile, click here.

Jonathan Wichmann, August 2011