A powerful B2B social media case study

I recently came across an extraordinary presentation on the topic of B2B social media from Social Media Week Copenhagen. The presenter was Jonathan Wichmann, social media manager for Maersk Line.

You may or may not be familiar with Maersk Line. They are the largest container shipping company in the world, which while impressive is probably less interesting than many superstar companies of social media. In his talk, Wichmann discussed the baseline strategy in their approach to social, the steps they took to elaborate and develop on that initial B2B social media strategy, and the benefits that they’re now seeing because of their development in the channel. And it’s REALLY impressive.

Planning an effective B2B social media strategy

Wichmann started out his talk by discussing their general strategy for social media. Maersk Line made a deliberate decision not to use their B2B social media channels for customer acquisition. To me, it’s a huge insight to understand that a business can achieve some big wins without having to over-promise unachievable results.

After deciding on a general direction, Wichmann and his team consulted with McKinsey and associates (he references this McKinsey study as influential to their strategy), and well-known social media author and consultant Jay Baer. From those consultations, Maersk Line determined four areas of emphasis for their B2B social media strategy: communications, customer service, sales and internal usage.

When Wichmann discussed their channel strategies, they ranked their ten B2B social media channels from least to most corporate and segmented each into four quadrants (Fans, customers, employees, experts). So Maersk Line really had a sense of what they wanted to accomplish in each channel and were able to craft content accordingly. He also described flexibility from the legal department – not that anything they do is controversial but they generate a lot of content across their channels everyday.

When Wichmann described the content that they were creating, the diversity was impressive. He wanted to do a time-lapse video, so he Googled it, created one and it was one of the most popular videos on their Youtube site. He said “it’s not something we just do… we don’t spam our networks with business content.” That’s an interesting (and realized) perspective to understand that items of provident interest to businesses may be construed as spam to users. When you see Maersk Line’s social media pages, you get a really good sense of what they do and what they’re about without getting the feeling they’re trying to ship something for you. But in the off chance you’re in the market for importing or exporting something….

Play to your strengths first

So, I heard the talk and wanted to see for myself what Maersk Line was doing. I went to their Facebook page and saw the massive engagement that they got on their photo posts. But as I went through the list of “Likes” at least half were from Maersk Line (or affiliated) employees. This is something that Jonathan alluded to when he discussed Jay Baer’s insights on on-boarding a company. Maersk Line has 25,000 people, a high proportion of them likely to use Facebook (Maersk Line’s most popular channel) – by leveraging their own employees first, they are achieving further virality from people with weaker ties.

Think of this from the perspective of Facebook’s EdgeRank or Google’s Knowledge Graph or Twitter’s new filter feature. By capitalizing on their own resources, Maersk Line will be able to get their message out more often to more people than almost anyone of similar size because they leveraged their organic community. And when people arrive at their content, each picture or post comes with a healthy dose of social proof and high ranking value. This is true to a lesser extent on their other social networks (Pinterest, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, YouTube, etc.), and the ramifications are huge. Maersk Line will always be heard.


Another interesting insight was when Wichmann discussed corporate journalism. One of their social media goals is sales, but their strategy isn’t to sell directly through the channel but to establish thought leaders in their industry. Wichmann is clearly establishing a Maersk Line media channel, and is leveraging the expertise of their employees to develop value for its customers. I think that’s brilliant.

One final takeaway was Wichmann’s take on customer care. He said that they achieved significant savings for every call center employee that they could replace with a social care rep. He even went so far as to share that many customer service issues are answered by fans before the customer care team can intervene. That’s a pretty great benefit to have.

What I appreciate about Jonathan and his team at Maersk Line is their transparency. In his talk he laid out a lot of their process and philosophy on B2B social media that many businesses might guard as proprietary. For a company in such a competitive environment to be so forthcoming is pretty special. I recommend listening to his talk and understanding their best practices for yourself. On more piece of brilliance – he put up a slide that claimed they were achieving 1500% social media ROI. Then he said it could be zero, or it could be 5000% depending upon your assumptions. How refreshing to have someone explain the difficulties of isolating social media and extracting an ROI in contrast to people who speak (positive) ROI like an absolute truth.

You may be skeptical, but let me share how I found Wichmann’s talk. I used to work for a subsidiary of A.P. Moller / Maersk (the holding company for Maersk Line). When I saw that they were evangelizing their social media presence, I remembered having to learn their proprietary DOS program and work with an email system that sent emails to groups rather than to individuals (and this was only seven or eight years ago). So, to learn about their leadership in B2B social media was surprising to me… albeit it in a very good way.

What do you think? What makes for a good B2B social media strategy? Could this be replicated B2C? What do you like and not like about Maersk’s social presence?



Photo by Bernhard Fuchs (Flickr: Gunvor Maersk) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • http://twitter.com/Frank_Strong Frank Strong

    It’s a solid approach, Jim, when you put the customer first, good things happen. Maersk may well be the largest company many people don’t know about, but perhaps that’s about to change. I’ve seen there ships at ports in several spots around the world and its simply amazing to watch.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks so much, Frank. I agree that container ships are fascinating and the commerce surrounding them is too. But that’s the nerd in me. :)

  • http://twitter.com/Frank_Strong Frank Strong

    It’s a solid approach, Jim, when you put the customer first, good things happen. Maersk may well be the largest company many people don’t know about, but perhaps that’s about to change. I’ve seen there ships at ports in several spots around the world and its simply amazing to watch.

  • http://twitter.com/patrickdaly16 Patrick Daly

    It definitely looks like they’ve put some structure around their approach, which is a big key, rather than the seemingly haphazard approach that other businesses have taken. They appear to have defined their audiences, channels to target and overall goals. That’s something that can be translated to the B2C world.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Patrick – I agree. I think their pragmatism is something that resonates with a lot of folks. Appreciate your insight!

  • Matt

    Great article thanks Jim, Maersk are a great example of a organisation really breaking down social media to understand it’s value in B2B. I think it does help them a great deal that their industry has a natural fascinating factor to it to but nonetheless their execution of their pre-determined strategy has been very good.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Matt! I guess because I work in that industry I never felt a fascination with it, but I get that, I think what Maersk is doing is brilliant – especially leveraging their organic resources, Thanks for your comment!