How Carnival Cruise Lines Used Social Media to Manage Last Week’s Crisis

On Sunday, February 10th, a leak in a fuel oil return line caused an engine-room fire aboard the Carnival Triumph cruise ship, stranding 3,143 guests and 1,086 crew in the Gulf of Mexico with no electricity or working toilets. After 5 days, the ship finally docked in Alabama and everyone debarked safely.

Let’s not beat around the bush — Carnival’s cruise ship was floating in the Gulf of Mexico for 5 days! So, of course they’re going to take a hit to their reputation and probably lose future business; however, I believe Carnival did a good job communicating with their social audience. There were a few things they (understandably) left out. I’ll get to that in a bit…

So, what did Carnival do right?

Well-timed Updates that Contained Pertinent Information
The day of the fire, Carnival posted on their Facebook page a quick overview of the issue, that at a high level included these elements:

  • There was a fire
  • The crew handled it immediately
  • Everyone is safe
  • All emergency contacts for guests have been contacted
  • Provided phone numbers for concerned family members to call
  • More updates coming soon

A more formal update was made at 7:30pm that evening which included additional updates and a message to those traveling on the next few Carnival Triumph cruises that those cruises have been cancelled.

At this same time, Carnival was actively tweeting links to these updates to their over 72K Twitter followers:

Carnival Tweets

Press conference videos were also added to their YouTube news channel.

Real-Time Response
Throughout the course of the ship being stranded, Carnival maintained a steady flow of updates along with real-time responses to questions and rumors on Facebook and Twitter. It seemed the main focus was to ensure safety for all on board, which went over well among their social audiences.

Carnival Cruise Tweets

There were, however, several negative comments left by users and Carnival did a great job of not stepping into the conversation when it wasn’t necessary. Quite a few of Carnival’s 2.1 million Facebook fans commented in defense of Carnival’s efforts, which in my opinion is the best form of reputation management there is!

Positive Facebook Comments

Sincere Apologies and Compensation
CEO Gerry Cahill’s first statement included: “We’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience, discomfort, and frustration our guests are feeling. We know they expected a fantastic vacation, and clearly that is not what they received. Our shipboard and shoreside teams are working around the clock to care for our guests and get them home safely.”

Carnival took ownership of the issues the ship experienced and made every effort to calm their fears and make the experience as pleasant as possible. The day the ship made it to port in Alabama, Carnival posted this update (in part) on their Facebook page:

Carnival Facebook Update

In addition to several apologies, the passengers were provided with compensation that included:

  • a full refund for the cruise and travel expenses
  • reimbursement for nearly everything they spent on board the ship
  • a credit good toward a future cruise
  • a check for $500

So what could Carnival have done better?

Well, if you ask the passengers aboard the stranded ship, they might say “everything”. Over the course of interviews, pictures posted to social sites, etc, some of the horror stories of being on the ship during these 5 days included:

  • waiting in three hour lines for awful food
  • no working toilets, being forced to go to the bathroom in plastic bags
  • horrible sewage smells in the cabins
  • sleeping in hallways and in tents on the deck because the rooms were too hot

Carnival Triumph Conditions

There’s some that feel Carnival should’ve been the first to share the horrible conditions that the passengers were experiencing in addition to the general updates they were providing; however, I disagree. With what I know of the situation, it seems that Carnival did a good job of keeping passengers safe and I think that’s most important above all.

There’s no getting around the dreadful PR that an incident like this will create. Whenever a customer has a bad experience they’re likely to write a bad review, share their experience on social media, etc. Take that times one thousand!

Some passengers have been more understanding than others. Then you have those that are suing the cruise line for what they endured. For example, Lisa Williams is filing a lawsuit because of the “physical injury” she received while aboard the ship when she was bruised from people shoving while waiting in line for food.
Is this for real? This is really a stretch!

So what do you think? Did the passengers get a fair compensation for their ordeal? Should Carnival had shared the details of what passengers were going through prior to passengers posting their own pictures and giving interviews?
Share your opinions with me in the comments…

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