In the current business age, social media and an online presence are considered essential tools to brand one’s identity and create a company persona to draw in new customers and recruit competitively. Some corporations have gone as far as to craft personal identities for their brand’s online social media – food brands such as Taco bell and Wendys have proven particularly skilled at balancing a humorous approach and publicising their products – and others use it as a way to talk directly to curious or disgruntled customers.
Apart from passenger vessel operators (who are consumer facing), social media is less evolved in the maritime world and is not as much a means of interaction as a one-way platform to disseminate information.
The overwhelming attitude is one of intense caution and in many cases, seafarers are trained to think of social media as a trap, which would be sprung on them or their employers and result in reputational damage. At many companies, the attitude is overwhelmingly that social media should be left to the ‘professionals’ employed in the public relations teams and must be avoided by crew as much as possible.
Connectivity at sea is widely considered an expensive necessity that is primarily driven by operational data needs and brings with it the accompanying benefit of alleviating crew isolation. But, not being able to write about their daily lives when on board (often for months at a time) goes against the whole point of social media – which is ostensibly is to connect people to their friends and families.
It is unfair to expect seafarers to adopt the same risk-averse attitude that would be appropriate for a company when talking to their loved ones. As such, it would be far more useful if companies ensured that there very well communicated rules about what would be problematic online behaviour (perhaps a company-wide code of conduct) and invested in appropriate and regular media training. The latter would ensure that seafarers were able to link the series of incidents that could result in a tweet or facebook post causing reputational damage.
Empowering crew with tools to curate their social media postings would not only help alleviate internal concerns about seafarers posting commercially sensitive information but would create a supportive online community and enhance life at sea.