Digital disruption or social media distribution?

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

– John Wanamaker (attributed)

Unknown marketing effectiveness is a problem almost every marketing initiative in the shipping (or any) industry faces. Marketing teams fail to qualify the impact of lawyers’ functions and ‘seminars’, through to brokers’ lunches, golf days, conferences, and advertising in the trade press. Much of the marketing and communications companies are doing is because they did it last year, with the same people, and without any quantifiable measures relating to success or value.

But things are changing. Things have changed.

Digital disruption

There is little doubt the shipping industry is in the midst of a digital revolution. Data-driven energy management and operational performance solutions can be delivered real time from Iceland. Crew payroll is now delivered and managed over smart phones. Cargo trading platforms and digital navigation are already part of day-to-day life. According to reliable sources, autonomous vessels will dominate the shipping lanes by November 2016. (This is a joke, in case you didn’t get it…and my wife says I’m not funny).

It’s all very exciting, or daunting…depending on where you stand.

While this digital disruption might be all relatively new in shipping, in the wide world of marketing we’ve been on a roller coaster of digital disruption since 1995*. Social media has further complicated and expanded the marketing repertoire. PR, publishing, client relationship management, and advertising are all struggling to keep up. And why is this important? For two reasons:

1. You might not be sure why you are using the digital marking channels you are.

2. If you use digital marketing properly, you can not only track the performance of every piece of corporate marketing and press coverage… you can dictate who sees it.

All digital marketing outcomes are measurable. This can provide you with a relevance previously missing from your marketing/communications and the ability to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Websites (are so, like, 2005…)

Although most maritime companies have a digital marketing portfolio – whether they know it or not – few have an actual understanding of how to use these tools effectively. Websites, apps, client portals, collateral, blogs, social media platforms, videos, podcasts, advertising, media coverage and PR all essentially fall under the digital umbrella. However, in most cases maritime companies use all these tools as little more than stand-alone brochures.

The real benefit of digital marketing is not being able to just develop content, it’s the ability to coordinate the distribution of that content, and turn it into a sales tool through targeting and database management. Every time you develop some form of content you should ask yourself: is this going the right people? Who is getting the credit? Can I control where is goes? How many times can I use this? And how will I measure its impact?

Are you maximising your press coverage?

There are few better examples of digital marketing failures than how companies leverage press coverage. Businesses can spend a lot of money on PR and get very little return – regardless of how good the content is. This is not because PR/press isn’t effective or worth it. It’s because they do not pay attention to where this coverage is driving traffic. If media coverage is protected by a paywall (as is the case with several major maritime publications) you are relying on the publication’s database to get your coverage into the market. Are your clients and targets paying for this publication? If you don’t know the answer then you don’t know if the people who matter will see the coverage. This also has negative implications for your ability to use this coverage. If you post it on social media, the link won’t work.

Another common mistake it to have a third-party, typically your marketing managers or PR agency, distribute your coverage. I regularly see maritime PR agencies distributing client coverage on their social media feeds and websites. Even if they have a large database or social media following (they likely don’t), this is driving traffic to someone else (them)—not to your potential clients. Often this confused distribution strategy also includes listing the PR agency as the point of contact. This adds in another hurdle for a client or person of interest to connect with you; they must go through a middleman. Typically, they won’t bother…or sometimes they will look you up on social media and contact you directly. As covered above, it all comes down to where you are driving traffic….to you and/or your company…or to someone else’s?

Social media… again

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Shipping people – on shore and at sea – use social media more than almost any other profession we monitor. Chances are you have a large following that you are not leveraging properly.

Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are ‘must-haves’. Twitter…I’m unconvinced (unless you’re a kitten or controversial). These sites now dictate how far, and how accurately, you can distribute you marketing material. They provide you with a hub (in the Singapore sense of the word) for all your content and all your key connections. They are also fundamentally changing the sort of marketing/PR content people want.

Chances are your social media databases are now larger and more relevant than most shipping publications’. The media and PR balance of power has shifted, you can now write an article and get more coverage than most (though not all) maritime publications can provide.

E-commerce demands better e-marketing

All of this has only been possible since 1995, the debatable ‘everyday’ birth of the internet*. The good news is, you’re probably doing better than you think when it comes to digital marketing. The next step is to understand how far you’ve come, question things you might need to change, and to put the appropriate effort into these technologies to better improve your sales.

If you are moving down the e-commerce pathway then you need to treat your website far more seriously than the ‘digital brochure’ format most companies use.

Graeme Somerville-Ryan

Graeme Somerville-Ryan is the Marketing and Business Development Director (Asia) for the international law firm Wikborg Rein. He also consults to businesses in the shipping, insurance, oil and gas, and financial services sectors on marketing strategy, communications, social media, and profile development in Asia.


  1. Graeme,
    nice piece of work about digital communication. Fyi, your article came to me, thanks to twitter. And I like to believe neither you nor me are kitten or controversial. 😉
    Ok I might not be your Company future customer but I also think you’re writing down this article to promote your Company -Wikborg Rein- and your own expertise and network.

    Talking about this, I think you’re missing in your article one of the key points about digital communication and social media. They are ok tools to advertise and communicate for Companies but fully agree, to be leveraged right, you have to go through communication experts.
    Social media are fantastic tools to advertise and promote people within the Company, unless every time you post a tweet/an article on Linkedin / a facebook thing by signing under the name of the Company, as a “Communauty Manager”. Most are done under personal name, like your article above, like my comment here.


    1. The commercial dynamic has certainly changed. Back in the day, established publications’ editorial staffs (or their knowledgeable industry veteran freelancers) could filter information. Now the “social” ability of “everyone to be a publisher” has removed this gatekeeper. Many readers don’t know the difference (or care to parse the finer shades and gradations) between objectively written news items and “content”.

      Consumers of “news” (however defined) need to be more discerning and critical than previously. The role of a good editor, conspicuously absent from social platforms, should include lots of compare/ contrast to help their hapless readers are deluged by a storm of advertiser posted content.

      To use an analogy from shortwave ham radio (big community thing for me, pre 1995), with so many broadcasters, the signal to noise ratio gets really low. In the new age, if shipping media is to have a role (not sure, I am just putting it out there), it needs to work much harder on “curation”- pulling some clear signals out of all that internet noise.

      Dissenting opinions, and those of GenX and Millenials, most welcomed!

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