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All shipping and energy professionals should understand the impact of social media algorithms on their business and workforce

Posted 08.03.2018
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Social media is everywhere in today's shipping and energy industries. Seafarers and rig workers are Facebooking relatives from offshore locations while their land-based colleagues shoot Instagram stories from ports and hubs including London, Singapore, and Rotterdam.

Checking #shipping and #energy on Twitter is now as essential for some as a morning coffee. And, in our offices across the globe, water cooler discussions between colleagues are being replaced by water cooler browsing of multiple personal social media accounts.

While consumer brands continue to dominate many social media platforms, there can be no doubt that LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and others are immersed in the shipping and energy industries, from a personal and professional perspective.

Social media channels represent new communications tools for our conservative industries. But it's notable that there has been a very traditional response from many shipping and energy professionals keen to learn more. They are asking colleagues, contacts, friends and relatives for their perspectives and, perhaps most commonly, seeking the advice of the nearest millennial they can find on 'what's hot' on social right now. Indeed, one senior manager of a global multinational firm recently asked whether his business should switch from Facebook to Instagram because his teenage son preferred the photo-sharing site.

When building an understanding of social media, it's important that shipping and energy professionals continue to harness counsel from the professional networks and contacts that have served their businesses well in the previous decades or even centuries. However, selecting the right social media platform that delivers maximum ROI cannot be done without a deep understanding of the platforms themselves; how they operate, who uses them and why, and - importantly - what's driving the content displayed to users.


After working on social media campaigns for almost five years at BLUE, what's striking is that algorithms are rarely on the radar of those looking to venture into social media for the first time.

Put simply, algorithms are used to 'run' social media. They order and filter the content shown to users using a combination of the quality of current content available and a user's reactions to content they have seen and interacted with in the past. Algorithms occasionally make headlines in mainstream news (think Facebook and fake news, the U.S. election and Brexit) but there is less discussion when it comes to niche B2B press. However, whatever segment we work in, they are increasingly dominating our essential channels of communication. As such, we believe everyone in shipping and energy should know what social media algorithms are and have a basic understanding of how they influence their businesses and employees; with particular emphasis on how algorithms could influence their knowledge building and professional development.

Here's why:

Algorithms create knowledge 'bubbles': Algorithms do a superb job of putting forward information to users that they are likely to find interesting and engaging. If you're commonly interacting with content about bunkering, for example, social media platforms will continue to push content on the topic to the top of your news feed. However, be mindful that algorithms selectively filter information and may inadvertently steer you away from different perspectives essential in developing a well-rounded view of a topic. The 'filters' applied to social media through algorithms are a stark contrast to the ethical code that has 'filtered' and steered media content for centuries; while journalists can and do write stories that aim to engage readers, they must present content that is fair, accurate and balanced even if a story is 'nosed' in a particular way. This extends to the way news is collated in print and online. All this means that readers looking for a 360-degree view of a topic may be better served by our industries' press, as opposed to scrolling down their social media news feeds. That being said, the profession of journalism, particularly breaking news writers, has been revolutionised by social media platforms, especially Twitter. Many media outlets, including those in shipping and energy, have a strong presence on social that shipping and energy professionals should interact with. Twitter lists, in particular, are a useful way to do this.

Algorithms do not stand still. They impact our industries biggest assets: our people Take Facebook's recent announcement that its algorithm will now prioritise 'meaningful interactions' with friends and family over marketers' content. This could be great news for our industries biggest assets; it's people, particularly seafarers and rig workers, who may get an endorphin boost when they log on at sea and are greeted by videos, pictures and statuses from home, as opposed to an advert-littered feed which has become the norm in recent years. However, some of the perspectives so far on what Facebook deems to be 'meaningful interaction' indicate there's a degree of fine-tuning left to do. A poignant example of this is Facebook's announcement earlier this month that it would end to a controversial trial in which professional news posts were removed from users' feeds in six countries in a bid to promote more content from friends and family.

Conversely, the same algorithm change could result in audience losses for shipping and energy businesses who have focused their resources solely on Facebook, drawn by the site's allure as the most widely used social media platform. Such organisations may need to reassess their social media strategies, re-clarifying their approach through a prism that always asks, "will our network want to share this content with their family and friends? If not, how can we make our content more community orientated?". Change is also afoot on Twitter, which has adjusted its algorithms to keep users on its platform for longer. This means prioritising native content - not links to other sites - with an emphasis on video content.

Roll and flourish with the punches

Thanks to algorithms, social media platforms can and do move the goal posts when it comes to managing your content and filtering content posted by others. Nobody outside of the social media platforms themselves knows how or when they will change again. What's clear is that pulling the plug on social media is not the right solution in industries being transformed by digitalisation. Instead, shipping and energy businesses must learn to roll with, and even flourish, amid the algorithm leg ups and punches. When using social media platforms, shipping and energy professionals should remain curious minded, actively pursuing 360-degree views on the complex topics of the day; from digitalisation to 2020 compliance and blockchain.

For our industry's communications professionals or those with a communications responsibility, the creation of meaningful content that is in line with the organisation's brand and values should remain integral, providing a guide for all decisions related communications, including social media. Collecting anecdotal feedback on social media platforms is important, but should not be used to take strategic business decisions on social media platform selection in the absence of an in-depth understanding of how algorithms work, drive change, and influence our opinions on key trends and topics.

By Clare-Marie Dobing, Senior Consultant


Photo by Jason Howie/ CC BY 2.0

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