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.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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