You might not have heard of the Copenhagen-based container shipping company Maersk Line (though you’ve probably seen its star logo). Relative anonymity is a fact that many B2B companies have to deal with. But this past September in Berlin, Maersk competed alongside 500 other companies and well-known B2C brands to win the Social Media Campaign of the Year and Community Presence Award at the 2012 European Digital Communication Awards. Its social media presence was barely a year old at the time.

One might assume that Maersk lives in the marketing shadow of B2C. As many B2B marketers can attest, their days are usually filled with less glamour and excitement than their B2C counterparts. However, Maersk’s social media presence is actually very well established — especially for its industry. The company currently has over 1 million Facebook Likes (it had 420,000 in September when it won the awards) and over 36,000 Twitter followers.

“For a company like ours, social media creates the most value when it challenges the way we think and interact,” Maersk states on its dedicated social media blog, Maersk Line Social. It goes on to say that “social media is a mindset, a way of thinking and working together. It’s based on the fact that we are social animals, and that means we can only benefit from sharing our thoughts and ideas with each other.”

Boring Isn’t the Only Option

Articles, white papers, and case studies are all valuable tools for B2B marketers. This type of content is informative, but it might also make you want to nap under your desk! In contrast, Maersk utilizes almost every social media tool available and has a presence on eight different social platforms. From time-lapse videos on Vimeo to intriguing photos on Instagram, Maersk doesn’t discriminate when it comes to using typically B2C-friendly social platforms.

Forbes profiled a Maersk video talking about how the company handles massive weather events like Superstorm Sandy. This coverage led to a record-breaking number of video views for Maersk, all in under 24 hours. With its sizable Instagram presence (over 22,000 followers), Maersk even created a “spotting trend.” Followers who see the Maersk star logo take pictures and share them on Instagram with the hashtag #Maersk.

Maersk’s Twitter account is managed by a panel of employees, including a captain, a graduate program student, and Maersk directors. “It is a simple and effective way to create transparency, to bring our employees’ expertise and diversity into play, and to ensure that the social media way of thinking takes hold within the organization,” said Jonathan Wichmann, Maersk Line’s Head of Social Media on his personal website.

It Doesn’t Take Years to Develop a Successful Presence

A little less than a year and a half ago, Klavs Valskov, Maersk’s Head of Communications, decided it was time to officially launch its social media initiatives. The marketing and communications team had been doing the legwork to build up its communications since 2008, while simultaneously undergoing a “listening phase” to determine if social media made sense for the B2B shipping company. After deciding what an important role social media plays in commerce today, a strategy was put in place. 11 months later, the team was collecting awards honoring what they had created in under a year.

As a B2B marketer, the thought of developing a social presence can be daunting. The results and pay-off might not be as black and white as more traditional B2B marketing activities like trade shows and white papers. According to a report from Optify, only five percent of B2B website leads come from social media, and when trying to push for implementation, these numbers can be less than convincing. However, you might need to take a step back and look at benefits in a different light.

While B2B social media might have a way to come in terms of lead generation, it is an amazing tool for connecting with an audience and improving customer loyalty. An email blast here and there is fine, but engaging and sharing every day will keep you top-of-mind. It’s fairly unlikely that Maersk’s 1 million Facebook followers are all customers or even potential customers; they probably just enjoy Maersk’s presence. Form a personal connection with your followers, and they’ll keep coming back!

It’s All About Engagement

Maersk’s mission to communicate and interact with its audience instead of driving new leads was never a mistake — it was the intention from the start. “Right from the beginning we were very conscious of the fact that social media is about communication, not marketing. It’s about connecting and engaging, not about pushing your products,” said Wichmann in a press release announcing the awards.

When one of its ships unintentionally hit and killed a whale, Maersk decided it would be best to come out and address the unfortunate incident, instead of trying to suppress the news like it might have done just a few years ago. A description of the incident was posted on Facebook. It was the most shared post on the Maersk Facebook page, with a 1:1 Like to Share ratio, and almost all positive comments. A Pinterest board in memorandum of the whale was also created.

Maersk’s main social media goal is to get closer to its customers, but it also comes along with many other perks. “At the same time we realize that there’s much more to gain from it, such as better press coverage, higher employee engagement, more brand awareness and even bringing in high-level insights and intelligence from shipping experts around the world,” Maersk writes in Maersk Line Social. It’s clear that for this B2B brand, plying the waters of social media has been well worth the effort.

Know any other examples of B2B brands using social media effectively? Let us know in the comments.