Read our new manifesto

How killing a whale opened up social engagement for Maersk Line

The international world of shipping is an unlikely place to find a Facebook campaign whose popularity and success is based in part on its open sharing of both positive and negative news in this industry – where striking and killing a whale at sea turns into an opportunity. But, on doing so, Maersk took its time to join the social media world and be open about the incident and engage.

As a result, the strategy made the company one of the most widely read among international companies, even topping Disney, General Electric and the Ford Motor Company.

In 2011, Maersk Shipping line and social media expert Jonathan Wichmann began its creative social media strategy. Wichmann now heads up Wichmann and Schmidt with clients that include Audi, Volksawagen and Knorr to name a few. For a company that has shipping operations in 150 countries and 250,000 employees worldwide, Maersk decided to share both positive and negative news, including a famous incident when one of its ships struck and killed a whale last year.

In posting a photograph of a Maersk Line ship and the dead whale on its Facebook page, the company netted worldwide interest and took that opportunity to talk about how they needed to work on better understanding the science related to whale behaviors and how they might have avoided such a collision. The open, honest discussion was read and commented on worldwide, with other mariners offering suggestions on how to warn whales by giving them a short blow on the horn, and other strategies.

According to the case study, the Facebook page is set up so that it appeals not only to shipping enthusiasts and employees, but it is widely read by NGOs, suppliers, the competition, and regulatory bodies. Maersk built a formula to compare Facebook activity to international brands as well. By taking the 10 latest posts, adding up the likes, with the number of comments (multiplied by two) and the number of shares (multiplied by four), the formula is a good indicator of Maersk posts measure up against other international brands.

The company's Twitter feed is also unique as although Maersk Line has 600,000 followers, they only follow 300 users and have 10 official tweeters. These include a ship's captain, the head of anti-piracy, and a chief commercial officer. Many of its followers include journalists and the shipping press who regularly report on the news they learn of on Twitter.

One example stemmed from Twitter activity posted ahead of a major hurricane, which led to a video interview from the site where the Maersk employees were monitoring the approaching storm. Taking advantage of the huge interest in storms, ships and the perils of the sea, the company also managed to generate news and build its brand profile through having a ship's captain or anti-piracy specialist ‘tweeting’ on the job.

Another successful strategy was the LinkedIn page which has a group called the Shipping Circle and the Reefer Circle set up to enable insightful and thought-provoking discussions around the challenges and the future of the shipping industry.

Additionally, the LinkedIn page has a 'social commerce' tab which describes some of its core products and ideas, as part of its B2B strategy. Wichmann mentions that the company felt it was important to receive peer-to-peer recommendations with LinkedIn allowing for this to happen easily.

The Instagram and Tumblr account for Maersk have taken advantage of the visual draw that worldwide shipping has for viewers and although Wichmann describes it as the 'least corporate' of its accounts it tries to tell the story of different aspects of the Maersk Line brand.

Finally, Maersk Line uses its Flickr account to publish photos from events as well as another place to store their Instagram photos. There is also have a dedicated Vimeo account (/maerskline).

The Maersk Line effectively used Facebook to engage with followers in a timely and conversational manner while generating news and using Twitter as a news outlet for the shipping industry. It uses LinkedIn as a platform in terms of company page and groups usage and their unique approach has given them one of the best social media presences for a B2B company.