Carnival Cruise Lines commits big social media mistake

The cruise company’s social media profiles went dark after its sister company, Costa Concordia, crashed off the coast of Italy. This PR pro explains why that was a bad move.

I’ve been watching how Carnival Cruise Lines handled itself during the past few weeks. You may recall Carnival’s sister company, Costa Concordia, wrecked off the shores of Italy, killing 32 people and injuring more than 30.

Beyond the human tragedy, the company now finds itself in a social media crisis brought on by—you guessed it—itself.

On Jan. 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, 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 met with mixed emotions, but seemed to generate some sympathy. After all, it wasn’t Carnival Cruise Lines that watched the captain and crew abandon passengers as the boat tipped.

But, on Jan. 24, Carnival posted that the crisis was over and it was ready to engage on social networks again.

This, as you can imagine, was met with criticism. People posted angry comments about the 30 percent off discount the cruise line gave to passengers and their families, and expressed shock at the ship’s lack of safety drills.

The very idea that a company would go dark for several days to avoid an onslaught of concerned people via social media only to turn it back on when it was ready is, well, crazy.

You can’t turn the Web on and off. You can’t avoid interacting with people because it’s not convenient for you. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s ridiculous to stick your head in the sand to avoid criticism.

Carnival treated social media like a print ad: It posted once to explain why it was going dark, and again to say it was ready to talk.

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

Carnival has a huge opportunity to turn things around. It shouldn’t watch its customers disappear and the industry go defunct. It needs to take a proactive approach that truly reengages with customers, loyalists and detractors.

It can start by putting its brand personalities back on social media, 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 crew rules, Carnival should have experts from the company discuss process and procedure.

It can use Google Hangouts, live chats, and streamed interviews, along with Facebook and Twitter, to let people know the company is listening and answering questions. And it should make sure it’s ready to answer all questions, even the hard ones.

It will take a lot of courage, preparation and training, but it will work if Carnival is willing to try.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally ran on Spin Sucks.

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