New California Management Review Features Prof. Katona’s Case on Social Media

Even traditional industries and sectors can build on the authenticity and spontaneity of social media to boost their marketing efforts, reveals a Berkeley-Haas case study by Associate Professor Zsolt Katona published in the latest California Management Review.

"Maersk Line: B2B Social Media—It's Communication, Not Marketing," co-authored by Columbia Business School Professor Miklos Sarvary, shows the disruption of traditional marketing methods at Maersk Line, the world's largest shipping container company. The case discusses the organizational aspects of the social media launch as well as pressure from the marketing department to better integrate the largely independent operation into the company's broader marketing efforts.

Katona has been teaching social media, a subject he points out not many competing business programs offer, at Haas for three years. He will use the case as an example of how old-economy companies use new media.

"Container shipping is not traditionally friendly to new media platforms," Katona says. "If I didn't see it, I would not have believed it. The case outlines how social media can be successfully used in almost any industry, but also that it is sometimes managed as an experiment and not integrated into traditional marketing organizationally."

The case follows new social media head Nina Skyum-Nielson as she succeeds Jonathan Wichmann, the architect of Maersk's social media efforts. With a team of one starting in 2011, Maersk Line garnered over 1 million fans on Facebook, 40,000 followers on Twitter, and 22,000 followers on Instagram by 2013. When Wichmann leaves, Skyum-Nielson grapples with tripling the budget, creating three new positions, and shifting $250,000 from print advertising, web-banner advertising, and sponsorships to social media advertising and management tools.

The Maersk case brings a unique opportunity to Haas classrooms not only in its findings but also in questions left unanswered. Katona notes that Maersk doesn't compare social media marketing efforts to traditional marketing and that its ROI methodology is weak.

"All of these measures are kind of ad hoc," Katona says. "Our discussion will encourage students to analyze the shortcomings of the initiative."

Students will evaluate Skyum-Nielsen's choice to go forward with this scale because of the initiative's demonstrated success. As the case evolves, Katona believes students may be surprised at some of Maersk's unconventional tactics, including not trying to hide negative stories from social media audiences. After all, Wichmann's mantra was: "In social media, people—whether it's seafarers or CEOs—don't want third-person narratives that are pushed out…like press releases or TV ads. They expect a human touch. And if companies have that, and it's not in a manufactured way, they will be rewarded big time."

Maersk was indeed rewarded quantitatively. A formula for measuring Facebook engagement that Wichmann devised by weighting likes, comments, and shares put Maersk at number two for engagement when compared to similar data from multinational brands like LEGO, Disney, Shell, GE, Ford, and McDonald's.

"Social media can work in B2B and there aren't a lot of cases out there that accomplish that," Katona says.

Katona's Maersk Line case study is part of the new Berkeley-Haas Case Series, a collection of business case studies on a range of companies and industries, written by faculty at the Haas School of Business. Each quarter, a key case study from this collection is featured for publication in California Management Review, UC Berkeley's management journal. Learn more at:

Zsolt Katona