Social’s Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Ports of all sizes are leveraging social media to support overall business strategy, engage stakeholders in planning, showcase their vital role in the economy and build community awareness of environmental and other initiatives. And they’re having fun doing it.

By David Coburn

From the Canadian Maritimes to San Diego and the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico, ports throughout North America are increasingly finding success using social media as a key tool in achieving their overarching business objectives.

While each port has its own unique challenges – consider Port Belledune, New Brunswick, where all social posts must be in both French and English – they also share many of the same communications goals, among them forging stronger connections with stakeholders, showcasing the vital role they play in their region’s economy, and raising awareness of environmental stewardship efforts.

With the ongoing decline of traditional media – coupled with the growing number of users on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and others – social media has become an even more important piece of the communications puzzle for port marketing and communications pros.

The most successful efforts are leveraging all social media platforms – primarily Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Instagram – to target the varied stakeholders ports need to reach, from the general community to shippers, tenants and other business partners, public officials and stakeholders.

In addition to allowing ports to tailor communications to specific audiences on each platform, social media has proven itself invaluable throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by enabling ports to change up communications quickly when necessary.

“Social media is one of the many tools we have in our toolbox,” said Jenifer Barsell, director of marketing and communications for the Port of San Diego, which has one of the largest social media presences among U.S. ports. “It’s another way for us to tell our story, and it’s an important one because we are able to tell our story the way we want to tell it.”

Key Community Engagement Tools

Some of the most impressive social media successes by ports recently have centered on initiatives to increase community engagement in what ports are doing – not only to raise awareness of what’s happening but to actually involve stakeholders in important decisions that will impact the port and surrounding community for years or decades to come.

After celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2018, the Port of Everett in Washington used social media to engage community members in a strategic planning process to map out a vision for the next 100 years. Catherine Soper, public affairs manager for the third-largest container port in the state and fifth-largest export hub on the West Coast, said the social media campaign leveraged the nostalgia of the centennial celebration to get the community excited about being part of shaping the port’s future. Social media channels enabled the port to easily push out opinion surveys and invitations to strategic visioning meetings to secure input.

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