Social Media Bringing Ports Closer to Communities

From left to right: Frédéric Verreault, Pablo Stevenson, Marie-Chantal Savoy,
Mike Ircha, senior advisor, ACPA, and Paula Copeland.

The ACPA Annual Conference addressed numerous issues facing ports and the maritime industry. A lively and interactive panel session entitled Taming the Tweet examined how social media is bringing ports even closer to their communities. Below are some comments and tips on how to make social media work from speakers Paula Copeland, Manager of Corporate Communications and Governance for Port Saint John, Pablo Stevenson, Founder and President of Ressac digital media agency, and Frédéric Verreault, Partner at TACT Intelligence-Conseil.

Moderator Marie-Chantal Savoy, Director of Marketing Innovation at CN, guided the panel with an expert hand. She led a live tweeting session that allowed participants to react and share information on Twitter throughout the the panel discussion.


Making social media work

Being connected to our community is very important to us. It’s part of what we as Canada Port Authorities are trying to do. The tool of social media is extremely powerful for connecting with the community.

My best advice to make social media work for you as a port authority is to be real. Show your corporate culture. Be relevant to what people want to know. Be meaningful, and be empathetic when things happen in the community. Be a partner with others. Be timely when things happen; have a response. And, finally, sometimes have fun!

Connecting with the community

(At Port Saint John), we needed to connect the port to the community and the community to the port. We needed to make the port dinner-table conversation and have people really know what we are doing. It made sense that social media was going to be the way to go.

We came up with three themes that guide a lot of our communications and indeed a lot of our business development efforts as well. These three themes are:

  • Inclusion: stakeholders need and are legitimately entitled to be included in the strategic direction of the port;
  • The port as an asset: the port is an asset that facilitates economic activity for a wide range of direct and indirect users; and
  • Renewal: the port and those affected by it need to move forward in a manner that presents a more focused and unified community voice for renewal.

We re-branded and developed two-way communication strategies. Social media was one of those strategies. We began to communicate more broadly about what we were doing. Social media became an excellent tool for us to do that. We developed social media goals. We wanted to build positive attention and further our community engagement within Saint John and New Brunswick in particular. We wanted to establish ourselves more strongly as community and business assets both regionally and on an international scale.

Future considerations

Here are some of the things that people should consider in social media. Content is important, but getting more visual with video and infographics is absolutely key. We’re going to have to get briefer and briefer with our messages and more and more clever with them. Video is important. In the United States, a recent study said males 18 to 34 years old were more engaged with video content on YouTube than they were with network television. Facebook is fast overtaking YouTube for video content.


Digital transformation equals business transformation

One of the key words that we are hearing about in traditional media and new media is digital transformation. There is a huge transformation going on right now, and it’s all about digital. But I think it’s more than that. The way I see it, it’s about business transformation. It’s something that will transform everything inside your business … the business model, the relationship with your clients. I think that social media plays a big part in that transformation. I don’t think that social media is the result of business transformation, but it’s one of the main drivers of that transformation.

You are a brand, start acting like one

Think of your company, your industry, the ports you are representing as a brand. When you start thinking like a brand, you start thinking about your reputation. You start thinking about your culture. Google, Facebook, Twitter, they have something in common. They have a great culture, and they show that culture through social media. You absolutely need to be on social media to show that you have a great culture. If you have a great culture, you’re going to attract great talent, and great talent makes great companies at the end of the day. This is something you can achieve or start achieving on social media.

The best way to protect your brand and your reputation is to have a real and clear social media policy and a social media strategy, and have the right resources around them. Find real support from inside your organization. Find your internal champions who understand the company.

Conversational capital

Social media creates confidence and trust among your partners and clients. Be creative with your content. Find your conversational capital. There are a lot of options; you just need to be creative about it. You have access to content that nobody else has access to. Start using it. 



Social licence

When it comes to social licence in the logistics industry and in transportation, (social media) can be much more than an opportunity and ‘nice to have.’ Social media can be part of the social licence that you need for your critical issues related to maintaining or developing your core business.

4 Strategic communications principles

  • We need to listen twice as much as we speak. Social media is extremely effective to listen to your audience, to be in relationships with your strategic stakeholders. Be trustworthy, proactive and transparent on social media.
  • The key for any platform is to look for value-added content and to be relevant. If you are relevant, people will keep following you.
  • By being quick, by listening, by being sharp, and by having people who take the risk and challenge to enter into a sensitive conversation, you can stop a snowball (from starting an avalanche).
  • A false piece of information repeated three times becomes reality. That’s true with social licence, social acceptability. It’s true with everything regarding issue management and public affairs.

Twitter and us

Who can raise an issue and make the news? Journalists, opinion leaders, influencers, staff from government offices and departments, non-governmental organization representatives, well-informed and passionate citizens. Who is on Twitter? The exact same people.

More and more, journalists don’t start working on a piece based on what they find on Google. Their first search tool is Twitter.

It is well documented that the lifespan of a tweet is four business hours. Once the tweet is online, you have four hours to react to it, to be relevant. Otherwise, it is like calling someone for his birthday two weeks after it happened.