CommCore Blog and News

The Carnival Splendor’s Social Media Strategy

Carnival Cruise Lines is getting generally high marks for its customer relations and public relations response to the highly-publicized misfortune that befell its “Carnival Splendor” earlier this month. The ship and passengers were stranded at sea for days with no power after an engine room fire, and the vessel had to be towed in to port.

Refunds and credit for a future cruise, air fare reimbursements, free hotel stays in San Diego or a bus back to the dock in Long Beach, and most-important — the on-site appearance of top management to take responsibility — went a long way toward soothing angry passengers.

The cruise line’s PR response was in line with what we at CommCore always counsel our clients during a crisis that affects consumers:

• Respond quickly.

• Show genuine concern for those affected, and back it up with actions to alleviate and/or redress the situation as quickly as possible to the extent possible.

• Get senior management involved immediately and visibly.

Among the tools Carnival used during the crisis was social media — the cruise director posted ongoing blog items, and Carnival posted regular updates on its Facebook page in real time, with links on Twitter:

In the social media sphere, Carnival is getting mixed reviews from experts. Yes, they moved quickly into the social media space, and that counts in their favor. The main beef? That Carnival failed to further engage its customers online by not expanding the conversation into ongoing 2-way dialogue. Instead they by-and-large stuck to one-way corporate updates and cruise director blog postings:

As a result, some experts say, they may have missed an opportunity to build stronger brand loyalty through real-time conversations with their customers, angry and upset as they were.

At CommCore we remind our clients about the following the ever-evolving rules of social media:
• Unlike traditional media, successful social media communication requires engagement and real-time conversation, not just news updates. Social media is not a platform; it’s a living room. On the other hand, if the living room turns into a sit-in at a certain point there may be reason to limit the conversation in the living room. It’s hard to imagine any comments that Carnival was a nice experience when passengers were eating Spam and had no electricity. In some instances, social media really means using all the available communications tools to get messages out: traditional media interviews, press releases, web postings, emails, blogs, twitter feeds. But it doesn’t have to mean limiting the two-way real-time conversation, certainly during the height of the crisis response.

• Monitoring social media in real-time is a critical aspect of proper crisis response.

• Social media engagement isn’t always about good news; by allowing angry or concerned customers to vent, and communicating with them in real-time about their experience, an organization can buttress their brand credibility and loyalty that regular PR, corporate communications or marketing have helped build. .

What do you think of the Carnival Splendor response? What communications lessons did you or your clients learn from it?