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In this viral video era of skateboarding dogs, cats freaking out over cucumbers, and kids doing an endless variety of cute things, there's no telling who or what will be the next transient social media star. That's why we took notice a couple of weeks ago when a time-lapse video of Interlake Steamship Company's Dorothy Ann/Pathfinder heading up Cleveland's Cuyahoga River went from a personal share on a Facebook page to being distributed nationally by design & technology blog Gizmodo.
Like many viral videos it started innocently enough - Jeremy Mock, Master (Captain) of the 711 foot long, 70 foot wide Dorothy Ann/Pathfinder, received a GoPro for Christmas and he lashed it to the Dorothy Ann's 75 foot high bridge before a 3 hour run from the Port of Cleveland's bulk loading terminal on Lake Erie to ArcelorMittal's steelmaking facility 5 1/2 miles up the Cuyahoga River.
On January 3rd Mock posted the 24 second time-lapse video to his personal Facebook thinking his friends would enjoy seeing what he sees. Mock recounted the night after the video first went public as he was sitting in the Dorothy Ann's galley when his 3rd assistant said "Your vid is up to 3,000 views and I bet it will hit 5,000 by midnight". Mock adds "It was the joke on the ship - I couldn't understand it. Then it zoomed right past 20,000 views. That original Facebook post now has over 85,000 views".
Interlake Steamship Company subsequently shared the video on their Facebook and a day later MLive.com (Michigan's largest news and information site, 11M digital readers/month) called Mock and ran a story on the video. A few days later, Gizmodo posted it on their Facebook (1.25M followers) and Sploid blog.
"It goes to show the power of social media and I'm pleased the video has touched a lot of people" said Mock. When asked why so many people have an affinity for Great Lakes ships like his, Mock replies "a lot of our audience are people who had family members work on the ships, and when they see this enormous vessel passing a beach or a port, it reminds them of their history."
Interlake Steamship Company's President, Mark Barker, has embraced social media as a way to inform the public on the merits of the maritime shipping industry. "It's great that people get to see what our talented employees do while learning about the positive impact our industry has on the local, regional and national economy"
"We're a silent operation so folks don't know that much about us. People see trucks and rail cars all the time but ships aren't as visible - we come into a port, unload, and leave. In the Great Lakes our industry transports 100 million tons of raw materials per year in a safe, efficient and environmentally friendly manner. That's a great story that needs to get out there".
Chrissy Kadleck, Interlake's public relations coordinator, loves connecting with freighter fans by providing insight and engaging content about behind-the-scenes ship operations and industry news.
"It's a wonderful opportunity as a company to be able to highlight what our highly skilled and well-trained employees do every day working on the Great Lakes," says Kadleck. "You have to remember our ships aren’t typical workplaces as our employees live and work on our ships 24-7. Many people don't realize people are still working on the lakes.”
Kadleck loves how Interlake's fans share pictures and videos of the company’s fleet and she likes fostering conversations with the community by answering questions posted on Interlake's Facebook page. "It's my goal to create a compelling conversation with our fans. It’s important to have that the back and forth so I aim to answer every question and message we receive in a timely fashion.” Popular posts run the gamut from, weather related items such as waterspouts, lightning, and large waves to ship repowering projects and the expansion of emission-reduction efforts to 1/3 of its fleet.
"We never know what's going to take off with our audience," says Kadleck. "But our genuine connection also allows us to inform them on strategic issues impacting the Great Lakes shipping industry such as expansion of the Soo Locks, a new heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes, dredging and uniform federal regulation of ballast water."
As the Dorothy Ann/Pathfinder sits at an Erie, PA shipyard for its winter lay-up before heading back out on the Great Lakes late February, Master Jeremy Mock reflects on the Cuyahoga River's uniqueness in the Great Lakes system. "The Buffalo River is somewhat comparable in terms of twists and turns but the Cuyahoga River is like nowhere else - it's a completely unique beast".