When an engine fire left Carnival Cruise Lines’ Triumph drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for several days last month, the story swept across social media, even causing the hashtag #cruisefromhell to trend on Twitter.
As the Triumph disaster unfolded in real-time, Carnival’s response demonstrated how social media can be an important asset during such a crisis. Carnival did many things right. But the company was too slow in launching a social media response, most notably on Twitter. That crippled Carnival’s opportunity to participate in the social media discussion from the moment it started.
“Well aware of the potential fallout, Carnival Cruises’ crisis team has sprung into action,” AdAge’s Rich Thomaselli wrote on the same day that the Triumph finally reached port in Mobile, Alabama. Thomaselli observed that Carnival “has been consistently updating its Facebook page, which has more than 2 million likes” and “is also using two Twitter feeds (@CarnivalCruise and @CarnivalPR) to issue updates.”
The Groundwork for Success
Crisis expert Melissa Agnes said that the company “did a thorough and sincere job at communicating with their audience throughout this crisis on their social media channels.” Social media expert Allison Matherly even heard about the incident for the first time from Carnival’s lengthy statement on Facebook. “It put out the facts and needed information,” she writes. “In fact, I didn’t feel the need to read about the situation from another news source.” Carnival, Matherly observed, is “not only being transparent about the situation, but they are actively talking about it.”
Without such an established online presence, Carnival would likely have found itself in a situation not unlike the Triumph, stranded and powerless in a sea of viral outrage. This event is an excellent example of why it is important to have an extensive social media structure in place before a crisis hits.
Room for Improvement
Carnival did many things right, but some saw ways the company failed to capitalize on the full potential of social media. Carnival “could have turned its Triumph crisis into a social media success, but it did not,” according to Skift’s Samantha Shankman. She points out that the company’s “Twitter account didn’t kick into high gear until Thursday, four days after the Carnival Triumph engine fire” and, after the ship reached port, “both Facebook and Twitter went silent until Tuesday, February 19.” The Build Network expressed a similar perspective: “Loved ones monitoring social media for official updates from the company found radio silence on Facebook and Twitter.”
In a CNN opinion piece, David Bartlett, a senior vice president of crisis and issues management and strategic communications firm Levick, offers some good advice on how Carnival could have done a better job. In addition to showing that it was sincerely concerned and working to fix the problem, Bartlett says, Carnival should have “aggressively and clearly deliver these messages now, and for as long as it takes to restore the public’s trust.”
What Else Could Carnival Have Done?
The media focused far less on Carnival’s social media response than on the anger tweeted, posted and otherwise shared by customers and the general public. That could have been different. As The Build posted in a sidebar to their piece:
“Imagine if the Triumph crew had posted video of people spontaneously helping one another aboard the distressed vessel? Would this have changed the conversation about Carnival during the crisis? Yes.
“Online video has already become one of the most powerful tools in the crisis manager’s arsenal, yet many fail to fully realize the real-time ability of video integrated with Twitter to break through a crowded online conversation,” writes Dallas Lawrence, chief global digital strategist for Burson-Martseller, in a Mashable blog post. “The question every crisis manger should be asking today is this: If you had a significant crisis occur on a Friday evening, how long would it take you to shoot, edit, and tweet a video response?””