The LinkedIn group he set up far outstrips major rivals like Lloyd's List, TradeWinds. Is there a secret to the success?
By Ryan Skinner (email)
Some people know Brett Keil as the tall and gregarious sales director for Maritime Executive magazine. Perhaps many others know him as the owner of the Maritime Executive group in LinkedIn - with 5,695 members and growing, one of the strongest and most lively in the shipping industry.
How did you get started in LinkedIn?
"I got started in LinkedIn early in 2007 when a cousin of mine who was not otherwise very big on social media, but was working for a political candidate, invited me to join. As soon as I joined, I saw clients, then I started to reach out to them and the thing just mushroomed. It was like a game, and pretty soon I had contact with over 500 people."
When and why did you set up the Maritime Executive group in LinkedIn?
"I set up the Maritime Executive group in April 2007, just before OTC, because I felt like it was a great way to keep in touch with a group of people who are always on the move. It was easier than a phone call; in fact, it was like a hybrid between a phone call and an email. And, of course, this led to even more contacts."
On the success of the group:
"I think the key to growing the group has been keeping our intentions honest, and serving the industry. We keep it strictly ethical and altruistic - create a dialogue in the industry, and at the same time show off the quality of Maritime Executive's readership."
On ways to generate exciting discussions:
"In order to get momentum up at the start, I studied what kind of discussions generated the most interest and debate. Those were most often questions related to politics. So I asked the group: Which presidential candidate would be the best for shipping, and what would he do?"
On some negative but inevitable developments in LinkedIn:
"In many ways, you see LinkedIn going mainstream, and mainstream means you attract some junk. You see that LinkedIn is experiencing some of the same problems as email with spam, and people trying to connect or join groups who have no place there."
How much time do you spend managing the group?
"I spend over ten hours a week managing the Maritime Executive LinkedIn group. I check requests to join the group two times a day, scan them and approve those who look legitimate. I answer requests, talk to people and look for good dialogue."
On the group's impact on Maritime Executive editorial:
"We get in tons of article ideas through the group. I think that's part of what sets us apart. We're getting ideas for stories from movers and shakers in the industry. We've got dozens and dozens of CEO members in the group and top brass. This is valuable, of course."
On the bottom-line value of the group:
"We don't get any revenue from the LinkedIn group. It's just a new channel and source of intelligence. We get tons of subscribers and advertisers through the LinkedIn group; in fact, we get better results in cost per sale from the LinkedIn group than from taking part in trade shows. With that said, we have become a huge gathering place at trade shows because of the group. Every show since we started the group we've pulled in the crowds."
How many visitors do you get through the group?
"We use Google Analytics to keep track of the source of traffic to the Maritime Executive web-site, and we can confirm that we get several thousand unique visitors a month directly from the LinkedIn group."
Any other ways that you use the group?
"On the circulation side, we found that the LinkedIn group created an excellent tool to update our address database. Imagine a subscriber changes jobs. We know about it right away, and we can ensure that his subscription follows him to the new address. I think that this has impressed people."