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Crewing & Professional Development
Crew and Training

5 Social Media Tips for the Shipping and Maritime Industry

Posted by on 26 February 2017
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In the early 20th century humorist Will Rogers said: “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” How much more relevant is that statement a century later where due to the existence of social media, events, stories, statements and images can be shared across continents in a matter of seconds. Social media has taken what was once the exclusive purview of executives, PR firms and industry journals - broadcasts of news and information about the shipping and maritime industry – and placed it in the hands of employees and the general public.  The flip side of this radical shift in communication is that social media has also created new avenues for shipping organizations to reach targeted audiences, whether they are B2B customers, potential employees or other types of stakeholders. Here are five ways you can make social media work for your organization, not against it.

Be Aware of Social Media’s Obvious (and Not So Obvious) Digital Security Risks

Maritime Insurers Norwegian Hull Club have some important tips for seafarers in their post “Social Media Oops”: “If the Norwegian Hull Club can find it (your post), it is possible that people with evil purposes (such as pirates) could find it. Do not put yourself and your colleagues in danger in a thoughtless second.” In Joanna Belbey’s Forbes article “Beware of Social Media and Cybersecurity” former counterintelligence operative Eric O’Neill mentions another not-so-obvious cyber security risk of social media posting: “Hackers can ‘recruit’ employees by learning enough about them from posts and tweets to craft authentic looking phishing emails to gain access to personal accounts or to enterprise passwords.”

Sean Moloney, Managing Director of Elaborate Communications, a marketing and PR agency that specializes in the maritime sector, had this to say: “There is a still a major lack of understanding of the threats associated with misuse of social media and the dangers posed by cyber crime. I know of one ship manager who transferred $300,000 to a bogus account because he thought it was a client account.” Being aware of any and all digital vulnerabilities is important, as Emmanouil Vrentzos, Senior Consultant in Control Risks’ Cyber Threat Intelligence team says: “the capabilities being used against companies in the maritime sector are becoming more sophisticated and that the impact of these incidents can be significant.” Vrentzos sites an instance where pirates stole from a Global shipping company by getting access to information on the location of containers. Ars Technica reports that the pirates got bills of lading through a vulnerability in the shipping company’s CMS software; as technology improves, new completely unanticipated threats are sure to surface.

Empower Your Crews to be the Face of Your Organization

In a 2013 survey from Career Builder, The Wall Street Journal reported that 43% of companies found an employee post significantly damaging enough to fire them from their position; the list of offending posts includes inappropriate photos, inappropriate behavior and “bad-mouthing a former boss”. Nancy Flynn of the ePolicy Institute explains why stopping social media posts in their tracks is important: “It's all too easy for disgruntled or tone-deaf employees to go onto social media and criticize customers, harass subordinates and otherwise misbehave. Sometimes that can bring workplace tensions and complaints, sometimes it can damage a company's reputation in the marketplace, and sometimes it can lead all the way to lawsuits or regulatory action. (And, like email, social-networking records can be subpoenaed and used as evidence.)”

While detractors say that personal social media posts should remain private and off-limits to company snooping, being aware of them and reacting to may be necessary; it’s a very complex issue that merits a thorough assessment and policy at your organization. In response to the maritime industry’s need to proactively respond to social media threats, e-learning and competence management organization Seagull Maritime has collaborated with reputation management firm MTI Network to produce onboard and online training content on social media awareness. This training content “explores the impact a seemingly innocent social media post can have when it involves a safety or security incident onboard” and gives shipping and maritime companies a way to be proactive about social media.

I asked Roger Ringstad, Master Mariner and Managing Director of Seagull maritime AS, what prompted Seagull to create this module with MTI Network: “The potential damage for both individuals and company when crew become on-scene reporters are enormous, and we have seen cases similar to the example we use in the e-learning module that unfortunately have created devastating outcomes. Using social media is a great way of keeping in contact with friends, family and co-workers. At the same time it is important that we understand the negative effects social media posts can have in today’s society. Demand from customers on this topic was huge, not because they are against social media, but because they want their staff to be aware of the negative effects a seemingly innocent post can have when you don’t think before posting. For us it was clear we needed to collaborate with MTI Network on this as they are the world leading incident response network dedicated to serve the shipping, energy, offshore and transportation industry.”

Ringstad continues: “In such a short space of time, the media landscape has been transformed by the impact of mobile internet, computing power and the increasing portability of personal devices; many of which have now replaced a camera, a diary and even a wallet! With everyone, from consumer to staff, now expecting to share their lives and form relationships (sometimes with companies) online – social media has never been a more important part of reputation management.”

Edward Ion of maritime and insurance risk management PR form Helix Media advocates that companies have a system in place to monitor all company mentions – not just from employees. He advises in the Helix article “Social Media and Shipping”: “Start out by ‘lurking’ – reading and digesting information and posts without actively contributing and engaging – it’s a sensible way to begin.” What to do if there are detractors, or negative posts? Be prepared! Ion recommends: “Have a ‘dark site’ ready – a site or simply a page on your website which is ready for immediate use if a social media crisis engulfs your company.

Sean Moloney, Managing Director of Elaborate Communications, had this to say: “Social media onboard ship and ashore has to be managed. Companies should have a social media policy in place that protects the reputation and image of the company, its correct use can be very beneficial. Identifying your market and which social media outlet it uses is a good first step. Crew favour Facebook, shipping companies Twitter and LinkedIn. But when using social media, be engaging with your audience – you need to give them something they want to read. Having a robust social media policy in place, backed up by good social media training is important in protecting the reputation of your company. It is easy for innocent photos or comments to be taken completely out of context, especially in the event of a vessel casualty.”

Sean cited some anecdotes where shipping companies had to deal with seemingly innocent social media posts from seafarers: “There are social media pics which show crewmembers having a party onboard ship. Nothing wrong with that but they are seen clutching beer bottles. Later examination shows that the beer is non-alcoholic but the pics give the impression that the ship manager/owner encourages drinking onboard. There is another YouTube video which shows a seafarer tightrope walking across the rotating propeller shaft before hugging it and spinning round. This shows tomfoolery as well as a lack of discipline onboard.”

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Have a Company Social Media Strategy in Place

As Nancy Flynn of ePolicy warns, damaging employee social media posts can affect the bottom line directly by “damaging a company’s reputation in the marketplace” or lead to “lawsuits or regulatory action”. Damaging news about a company that is not effectively dealt with immediately can spawn not only negative posts but entire social media campaigns and sites. Way back in 2009 Mashable offered these “5 Steps for Successful Social Media Damage Control”; they are: monitor social sites, respond quickly and publicly, educate employees on how to respond, and make sure to have a crisis strategy in place.

It is going to be even more difficult to respond to damaging social media remarks if you don’t have a company social media strategy - and according to a survey of 100 shipping companies in 2012 - this seems to be the norm. The study found that 86% of shipping companies were not on Facebook, 92% were not on Twitter, and 94% were not on YouTube. Where to look for social media inspiration for your shipping organization? Maersk, as well as maritime emarketplace ShipServ are two great role models. Maersk has been a social media pioneer in the shipping industry, and their successes are well documented. ShipServ also has a much celebrated content marketing and social media strategy which increased their leads by 400% and paid for itself in three months.

ShipServ ran their own study on social media use in the shipping industry and found that the interest and need for social media was definitely there. In their Internet Use in Shipping Survey in 2011 75% of respondents said they planned on increasing “their use of social media in a business context”. ShipServ’s Director of Business Development at the time, Mark Warner said: “People are no longer asking why they should use it but asking how they can use it to gain the biggest advantage. This is a seismic change.”

Crowdsource for Positive Change and Innovation

I’ve said a lot about the negatives and scary potential of social media for a company’s online reputation, but in fact, it can be a very positive force for companies. Co-founder of creative agency Wichmann/Schmidt Jonathan Wichmann, who was Maersk’s Head of Social Media from 2011 to 2013, saw the great potential of social media as a way for companies to crowdsource ideas from their customers. Wichmann writes in “An Open Letter to the Shipping Industry: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was “a curious shipping company” that truly listened to and understood its customers? This position in the market is up for grabs.” Using social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter as a giant “focus group” for company innovation is for most shipping and maritime companies still an untapped resource. Perhaps tools such as Microsoft and DNV GL’s Veracity which promises to “unlock the potential of big data” to transform businesses will be applicable to future crowdsourcing innovation for the shipping industry.

Attract Seafarers with Social Media and Content

In that 2012 study I cited, “Social Media and The Shipping Industry”, there was one social media channel that more than half (54%) of shipping companies participated in, that is LinkedIn. However, study authors Baylor and Engh wrote: “LinkedIn… has yet to demonstrate its influence as a crisis communications tool, except that it enables a fairly robust opportunity for journalists or bloggers to locate, identify and even contact senior personnel.” Along with not being an adequate social media damage control tool, LinkedIn seems to be lacking as a recruitment tool for industries such as offshore drilling, in comparison to Facebook. Fredrik Tukk, Digitalization Architect at Maersk Drilling described to Forbes how he built an “employee value proposition” to attract qualified candidates with the goal of hiring 3,000 new staff back in 2014. 200K followers later, you can see evidence of job inquiries on many of their posts, which average several hundred likes each. You can see the entire Maersk Drilling Facebook recruitment campaign story on Slideshare.

Creating content for seafarers is another way companies can attract employees. Take, for example, these ideas and apply them to seafarers: “Truckers face a unique set of challenges every day of their working life. On the road in an ever-changing environment, they are required to process information and quickly make decisions to meet their delivery deadlines. Along with providing content for end-users, trucking companies can also provide useful information and tips to truckers in real-time via social media to help drivers on the road, as well as customers waiting for their shipments. Creating a company-branded Twitter handle specifically for truckers can enable you to provide updates on weather, accidents, company updates, policy changes and even tips.”

The excitement around social media seems to have lapsed a bit with the current economic challenges the shipping industry is facing. As the digital space becomes more crowded and online ads are seen by less than 10% of users, getting a positive message out there about your company to potential customers and employees becomes more and more important. The message to take from this article is that ignoring digital is a bad idea, as “94% of B2B buyers conduct online research before deciding on a purchase”. And as an MTI Network blog warns: “at the end of the day, no one ever wants to become known as the shipping company who’s first Tweet read ‘we are sorry’.”

Are you in the crewing, training and Maritime HR field? Meet over 150 industry professionals in crewing and marine education and training this May 9-11 at Crew Connect Europe in Copenhagen.

Do you have negative (or positive) experiences with social media in shipping and maritime? Tweet to us at @KNectMaritime. And we also invite you to join the discussion at our KNect365 Maritime LinkedIn group.

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