Shipping must be prepared for social media storms

In today’s instant media world, silence equals guilt or worse –  that you are running away from the problem
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By Ed Ion
Director (Asia), Navigate Response

Because shipping is almost entirely business-to-business (B2B) in its outlook, many in the industry assume that a social media-driven crisis is unlikely to happen to their company.

Heightened social media trends usually embarrass or bring down retail, mass brand companies, right? Think McDonald’s or airlines or fashion brands which have had to scramble quickly to ‘put things right’ after some social media hiccup.

But as shipping climbs the media’s news agenda, social media mishaps are more likely to happen. We increasingly see this in our response work when there are problems on board or in the office.

A problem can come from a mis-step in the communications team. It can also come from employees and crew or even third parties.

To date the event most intensely covered on social media was the case of the Ever Given, the container ship which blocked the Suez Canal in 2021. There have been other shipping incidents which have sparked massive response on social media.

Navigate Response acted as media advisor and manager to parties involved in the Ever Given incident.

The case of the Ever Given was unusual in that the social media reaction was quirky and humorous to a large extent. There was little anger or finger-pointing. There was no death, injury or environmental damage.

Nevertheless, the parties involved felt the ‘heat’ and the intensity of social media for days on end.

While the Ever Given may be regarded as a one off, we urge our clients to plan for aggressive, unrelenting social media attack , the like of which is usually reserved for retail brands or individuals.

The media is setting shipping in its sights as the journey towards Net Zero and decarbonisation becomes ever more critical.

The fact that our business has so far been unable to agree a global consensus on the way forward on this means the media will increasingly pick holes in the behaviour of shipowners both individually and as a group.

It is an increasingly sensitive time to own ships as the general public has a bird’s eye view of the industry through the (often distorted) lens of social media, if not the clear and present one of a drone.

The reputational risk of owning or operating vessels has never been higher as shipping has gone from being the ultimate ‘invisible’ private enterprise to a very public part of the global supply chain.

This is why Navigate Response developed a software named Triton which is the only bespoke social media simulation platform aimed exclusively at the shipping industry.

Triton is designed to make drills and scenarios seem real and our team goes to great lengths to create the kind of real time social media ‘content’ your company could be subjected to on social media in a real life incident. It is meant to be stressful and uncomfortable: And it is.

We advise our clients to take other basic, practical steps to ensure a social media pile on can be managed or at least responded to effectively. These include getting statements out as quickly as possible.

In today’s instant media world, silence equals guilt or worse –  that you are running away from the problem.

There are other steps companies can take to ensure their employees don’t make unwitting mistakes on social media.

These days most owners and managers have some form of social media policy. In our experience these policies can vary greatly from those which are sophisticated and regularly updated to those which were written years ago to fulfil a tick box exercise.

We advise our clients to ensure their social media policy is updated regularly and that all staff, ashore and at sea, read it frequently so it is front of mind.

Most social media policies amount to a common sense statement – but they are quickly forgotten in the adrenalin fuelled moments of a crisis.

This policy should always be part of the wider crisis communications and response plan which should also be a live, working document.

Lastly, we advise that in order to understand social media and how it works, there is a need to monitor it in a consistent and thorough way. This means the company needs staff in the comms team able to set up monitoring systems and have access to one of the many social media monitoring platforms which are now available.

Your media crisis response advisor should be able to give you a run down on both the kind of skills needed to do comprehensive monitoring and the best platforms to use.

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