Gini Dietrich

A Break from Social Media Is Killing Carnival Cruise Lines

By: Gini Dietrich | February 16, 2012 | 

I’ve been watching, with great interest, how Carnival Cruise Lines has handled themselves during the past few weeks surrounding a crisis of tantamount proportions.

You may recall their sister company, Costa Concordia, is the ship that wrecked off the shores of Italy, killing 32 people and injuring more than 30.

Beyond the human tragedy, the company has found itself in a social media crisis, brought on by – you guessed it – themselves.

On January 19, just six days after the accident, the company’s Facebook update read:

Out of respect for all those affected by the recent events surrounding our sister line, Costa cruises, we are going to take a bit of a break from posting on our social channels.

And Micky Arison, the CEO of the company and owner of the Miami Heat, tweeted:

I won’t be as active on Twitter for the next while. Helping our @costacruises team manage this crisis is my priority right now. Thnx — @MickyArison

The comments and tweets were of mixed emotions, but they seemed to have generated some sympathy. After all, it wasn’t Carnival Cruise Lines, directly, that watched the captain and crew abandon the passengers as the boat tipped and lie in the bay on its side.

But then…they posted on January 24 that the crisis was over and they were ready to reengage on the social networks.

This, as you can imagine, was met with criticism, ranging from angry comments about the 30 percent off offer for the passengers and their families to shock surrounding the lack of safety drills on the ship.

The very idea a company would go dark for several days, as if to avoid the onslaught of concerned people via the social networks, and then turn it back on when you’re ready is, well, crazy.

The web is not something you turn on and off. Interacting with people is not something you can avoid when it’s not convenient for you. Sticking your head in the sand, in order to avoid criticism, is ridiculous in today’s real-time, 24/7 world.

Carnival treated social media like a print ad: One that explained why they were going dark and another to say they were ready to talk again.

Research shows bookings are down since the accident, not just for Carnival, but for the entire industry. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next year.

Carnival has a huge opportunity to turn things around and not watch their customers disappear and the industry go defunct. They need to take a proactive approach that truly reengages with their customers, loyalists, and detractors.

They can start by putting their brand personalities back out there, including Arison, who is known to tweet 20-30 times a day in a fun and engaging way.

To answer the criticism about safety and drills and crew rules, they should have experts from the company discuss process and procedure.

They can use Google Hangouts and live chats and streamed interviews, along with Facebook and Twitter, to let people know they’re listening and to answer questions.

And they should make sure they’re ready to answer all questions, even the hard ones.

It will take a lot of courage, preparation,and training. But it will work…if they’re willing to try.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Forge_Ad

    Very interesting @kmueller62 @ginidietrich A Break from Social Media Is Killing Carnival Cruise Lines via @ginidietrich

  • Yikes! They need a social media coach or a PR coach – or something!

    • ginidietrich

      @Lori Arison is getting pounded pretty badly – from no longer tweeting and not making a trip to Italy to trying to push the blame to Costa Concordia instead of standing up and taking responsibility. There will be investigations.

  • I would say they need help with their public relations, but apparently, no one knows what that term means anymore.

    You’re right, of course, but my best guess is they figured it was better to say nothing than say the wrong thing. Also, the legal dept. might have been behind it.

    • ginidietrich

      @adamtoporek LMAO!! You crack me up!

      Sure, the legal department likely was pulling the strings on this one. It just goes to show how badly legal and communication need to work together.

  • Interesting…”I think I’ll just opt out for a while until this whole boat turned over in the water thing dies down.” Surprising *that* didn’t work!

    Really great suggestions, Gini. I’d be equally surprised if they did anything like it. Do you think it’s another case of company ‘X’ getting into social media because, well, it’s the thing to do and “everyone’s doing it” and it might build brand awareness, engage some folks, etc., only to really discover when the rubber hits the road, they were just using it (as you point out) as a form of advertising and when things get dicey, treating it the very same way? Sadly, companies are ill-equipped to handle social media because they forget it’s a way to communicate *with* people, not *at* them.

    • ginidietrich

      @EricaAllison I actually don’t think that was the case with these guys. They’ve been winning awards for their approach to social media. I think they got scared, didn’t know what to do, and retreated.

  • Billy_Delaney

    Ah! Nowhere to hide. Clearly clueless to the power of the social stream. Obviously driven by the suites who call themselves lawyers, isn’t this why we don’t like them? Curious about the effect all this will have too. Believe that the ships they build are abominations. If you want to really go to sea go small, leave the casino and disco behind. Get in touch with the water…Billy

    • ginidietrich

      @Billy_Delaney I love to cruise – where else can you see different countries and stay in one room? But it’s really hit the entire industry, not just Carnival, hard. It makes me sad attorneys still hold the communication strings.

  • This isn’t really a social media problem, but a cultural one.

    I remember long ago when a Japanese airliner crashed and victims’ families were being flown to the location where they had to identify bodies and make arrangements. The president of the airline sottd at the gate and bowed silently to each and every one of them as they boarded the plane. It was a small act of contrition that admitted no guilt but expressed sorrow and responsibility in a way that was deeply touching – and culturally important.

    We don’t do that in the USofA. We really don’t have the slightest idea how to respond to a situation like this, in large part because we rely so heavily on our words (part of our Anglo heritage).

    Your analysis, of course, starts with having a plan for the unthinkable in place up front – a truly strategic approach. You are, of course, right. But I’m not sure what the right things to say and do are, and to some extent you’re always going to have to wing it through the very fluid situation.

    But a little empathy goes a long way in a situation like this no matter what. It’s a matter of being, first and foremost, human. In our professional world we are typically very lousy at doing that, relying on mechanical responses and the machinery of our organizations.

    To me, this cuts to the heart of the problem that PR – and all advertising/marketing – faces. Social media hasn’t really changed anything, but it has amplified the problems that were there in the first place.

    • ginidietrich

      @wabbitoid We have a client who had an employee shot and killed while at work. One of the things we recommended was exactly this – the CEO and his executive team went to the guy’s home and spoke with his wife. They attended the funeral. They were compassionate. Why is that so hard to get?

      • @ginidietrich Excellent work! Once again, I don’t think this is about the failure of your profession, but that your profession is at the crossfire of a very important issue for our time – the relationship between individuals and larger social institutions. Social media is challenging everything at the same time 20th century industrialism / modernism was collapsing of its own weight anyway. You’re just taking the brunt of it all.

        But yes, remembering you are human and that what matters are simple acts of decency, empathy, and compassion will always get you through. Lawyers may freak out here and there, but screw ’em anyways.

        I think it’s very easy to make this very hard. A little Toaism can go a very long way, IMHO.

  • Why is this not SO OBVIOUS to smart people? Obviously there ARE smart people at Carnival… and I don’t want to just pick on them. It happens over and over again like a bad version of Ground Hog’s Day.

    I know I work in this arena so I think about it like you do and it’s fairly instinctual… but I think it’s instinctual because it’s common sense. And I’m leaving this blog to go read about 1 800 Flowers not delivering hundreds of flowers on Val. Day and the Twitter Rage that ensued…aarrgghh!

    • ginidietrich

      @AmyMccTobin I saw that one, too. The thing that gets me about that particular example is they went through this last year. Clearly they didn’t learn their lesson. Morons.

  • DonovanGroupInc

    Here, here!

  • MikeSchaffer

    Spot-on, ginidietrich!

    May I also add two points:

    1) Saying you are going dark out of respect is less-meaningful than actually just doing it. If they had just STOPPED for a few days, that would have made more sense than drawing attention to the fact that they did so.

    2) What they should have done is implement an interim crisis communications plan. That would have included things like:

    – Letters from corporate leaders posted on their website and shared socially

    – Sharing of news coverage of the event. A little transparency would have allowed them to be a source of information during this rough time.

    – An outline of their, I’d hope, rigorous training and inspection programs.

    – Links to resources for passengers

    Instead of stopping, a well-organized communication plan would have earned them industry and customer respect.

    • @MikeSchaffer ginidietrich! I disagree on one point and maybe it is just personal preference. I don’t have a problem with them saying they are going dark out of respect because to me that indicates they understand there is a significant problem that must be addressed.

      But you must make it a very short time because otherwise people wonder if you are burying your head in the sand and or ignoring it.

      I think your point of providing information about their training, safety and inspection program is dead on.

      Am I the only one who noticed that within two days of the accident HBO was running Titanic?

      • MikeSchaffer

        @TheJackB ginidietrich! Timing is everything 🙂

      • ginidietrich

        @TheJackB @MikeSchaffer And that they’re comparing this to the Titanic??

        • @ginidietrich @MikeSchaffer No, I didn’t mean that they were comparing it to Titanic. I just thought it was an odd coincidence.

          I have never been on a cruise but between watching the movie again and seeing the Contra Costa, I don’t know. 😉

    • ginidietrich

      @MikeSchaffer Exactly. I don’t know what happened, but I can take an educated guess that they lawyers said, “Absolutely no communication.”

      • KabiDG

        @ginidietrich @MikeSchaffer And that is the problem when attorneys overstep public relations. While the attorneys focus on their job, and marketing focuses on its role, there still remains the need for the “ethical voice” in this crisis. Legal and Marketing will naturally want a blackout. But that is where Costa’s or Carnival’s public relations arm needs to respond, show concern, continue to issue facts where necessary, be willing to fix, and keep its ear to the ground (not bury its head into it).

  • ifdyperez

    Great case study! I agree wholeheartedly, and just posted it on our Razoo page. I have no further comments. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @ifdyperez LOL!!

  • Well, this just demonstrates that for them clients are just WW, walking wallets, and nothing more. Which is not uncommon in many businesses these days. Despite all their PR things which are obviously fake and just for business. Imho.

    And the real funny part will be when Isola del Giglio will ask for a refund, if they haven’t already done it. And some American passengers have already gone into a class action.

    When times get tough the true nature of people and business is revealed, despite all their PR efforts which will surely follow.

    Anyway what happened is their fault: they employed an obviously “amateur” Captain, they employed a crew who for the most part wasn’t able to talk in Italian and maybe even in English and who were not trained to deal with emergencies (but hey, they cost pennies a day), they didn’t have the safety equipments needed on the boat. Etcetera, etcetera. Like Titanic those giant boats are perfectly safe until something wrong happens, then they become a kind of shrapnels.

    Those who stay at the top are responsible for every decision taken in their business and not only those who get the bigger slice of the earnings cake. If not them, who’s to blame? Neptune?

    Anyway what really makes me, and some other Italians I guess, really angry is not the behavior of the management, that’s pretty much expected as we all know in which world we are really living, but how the Captain behaved. Because if he was able to behave as a real Captain would have done there would have been far less victims. And he can’t blame for this the management but only himself. The management just employed him, probably because he was cheaper.

    Sorry for the little rant. 🙂

    • ginidietrich

      @Andrea Hypno I’ve never heard WW. That’s awesome!

      You’re right. The Captain, and crew, should never abandon ship. The Captain should not drink with passengers and then showboat. But, because he did all of these things, the executives at Carnival are responsible. There is a class action suit. And it looks like Arison may be called before Congress. He could be in a lot of trouble.

      • @ginidietrich I could have invented WW, feel free to use it as you like though. 😀

        As you said the Captain is responsible for everything that happens, either on a boat or on a board. That’s why he get payed more than everyone else. Imho. 🙂

  • NotTheFakeDigs

    @shw72388 Woah you better watch talking shit about the cruise line I am going on.

    • shw72388

      @NotTheFakeDigs are you copying our vacay plans? We’re going on a Royal Caribbean cruise end of March. We’ll see who has the better trip

      • NotTheFakeDigs

        @shw72388 I’ve been on Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Both are spectacular. We are going first week in may

        • shw72388

          @NotTheFakeDigs Let me know any secret tips of the trade you have for sneaking alcohol on the ship.

  • Not a good move here. People instill confidence and accountability.

    But there are two case studies which I bet have them scared. The CEO of BP did more damage than good. Same with banking and auto. When the bailouts were needed their personalities were damaging. Maybe Mickey was advised he was a liability vs an asset?

    • KabiDG

      @HowieSPM If you have an expert PR team you have a good crisis plan in place, with designated spokesperson and talking points vetted and ready to go. The key is finding the right spokesperson prior to the crisis happening. You can then do the ethically right thing – communicate with your stakeholders. Avoidance speaks volumes. Do we trust this brand knowing what we now know?

      • KabiDG

        Also, the CEO does *not* have to be the spokesperson.

        • ginidietrich

          @KabiDG I agree the CEO doesn’t need to be the spokesperson. In this case, though, I would strongly urge it be him because he’s the face of the company.

        • KabiDG

          @ginidietrich I didn’t think that I would say this, and it’s totally baffling that it is the reality: Arison, who is already vocal on Twitter, has pulled a Captain Schettino on this crisis. He has jumped the social media ship. Time will tell if this strategy works for Arison.

          We know that B-M has been retained by Carnival and a settlement offer to each of the passengers is in the works. Is that the reason for attorneys silencing Arison? The Carnival website is in avoidance, too. No microsite, no statement. Typing in “Costa” in the search comes up with zip.

          Avoidance is not issues management.

      • ginidietrich

        @KabiDG @HowieSPM Amen.

  • jhemusinsignia

    Getting their social media response wrong in the intensity of a major crisis emphasises again why thorough preparation – scenario planning, realistic social media exercises etc – is the first and most important step in reputation protection.

    Jonathan Hemus

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  • CathyGuminaOdom

    Just got back yesterday from the Carnival Cruise Line from Hell. I’m pissed.

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