"Instead of taking my family on a Carnival cruise for spring break, we're just going to half fill the bathtub, climb in, and poop." -- recent Twitter post.
Problems at Carnival Cruise Lines have been widely reported by traditional media, but social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have had an interesting impact on the cruise line and its brand.
First, the funny stuff. A quick check of Twitter the other day found some really amusing observations.
Someone who answers to Bweezy (@bweezy1974) posted this: "In order to rehabilitate its image, Carnival Cruise Lines has hired a man named Gilligan to act as first mate on its next three hour cruise."
Writer and television actress (I have never seen her) Sarah Thyre (@SarahThyre) suggested: "Naming your cruise line Carnival is like naming your motel chain Toothless Hoarder Garage Sale."
Comedian and "Saturday Night Live" alum Kevin Nealon (@kevin_nealon) said: "Glad Carnival Cruise Is not an airline." (Nothing subliminal about that one.)
And it was actor Joshua Malina (@JoshMalina) who played Will Bailey on "The West Wing" and also pioneered poker on television (I'm not kidding) chimed in with the quote listed above: "Instead of taking my family on a Carnival cruise for spring break, we're just going to half fill the bathtub, climb in, and poop."
And my favorite by someone called Andry H'tims (@Thing_Finder) who said: "Carnival Announces Plans to Scrap 'Survivor-Themed' Cruises: CEO Says People 'Just Don't Seem to Get It'"
Aside from offering an outlet for professional and amateur comedy writers to try new material, social media plays an increasing role in how we learn about crises and disasters -- and also how communications and PR pros must respond to the same mishaps.
Just a few years ago (before texting, Facebooking and Tweeting were ubiquitous), we might have not heard a word about the Carnival Triumph's poop cruise until it was all over. On the first week-long cruise I took about 10 years ago, I paid about $150 for the privilege of logging on to the Internet to check my email while we were at sea. I remember a half dozen computers available in a lounge area; it was not a crowded place.
Today, most cruise ships have some form of wifi onboard and, for a fee, you can post like a fiend to your social media accounts.
Tweets and posts gave media outlets access to real-time information about what was happening on the Triumph, at least until everyone's phones died.
The main lesson here is that every company should monitor social media as a matter of course, but especially during a crisis.
Last week, when Carnival's Dream got stuck in St. Maarten, Twitter was blowing up with reports of the happenings on the ship. Carnival's PR team (@CarnivalPR) actively reached out to media outlets that were reporting on the broken down ship.
For example, when Fox News reporter Joshua Rhett Miller tweeted that toilets were overflowing on the Dream, Carnival's PR team responded with information clarifying that only one toilet had overflowed -- hardly news.
Here's the original tweet:
@joshuarhett #Carnival Dream turns nightmare: Power outages, overflowing toilets reported @CarnivalCruise http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/03/14/power-outages-overflowing-toilets-reportedly-plague-another-carnival-cruise/#ixzz2NWNzJGrT ...
And here was Carnival's response:
@CarnivalPR @joshuarhett Saw your story on Carnival Dream, wanted to make sure you had latest info & details regarding plumbing: http://bit.ly/ZQ0WqS
The link pointed to this statement:
Information on Carnival Dream and Alleged Toilet System Issues Mar 14th, 2013 @ 12:33 pm › Joyce Oliva We have had multiple conversations with the ship's management team related to this subject. Based on the ship's service logs and extensive physical monitoring of all public areas, including restrooms, throughout the night, we can confirm that only one public restroom was taken offline for cleaning based on toilet overflow and there was a total of one request for cleaning of a guest cabin bathroom. Aside from that there have been no reports of issues on board with overflowing toilets or sewage. The toilet system had periodic interruptions yesterday evening and was fully restored at approximately 12.30am this morning.
Despite all the criticism Carnival has received for its handling of recent incidents, the company's PR team clearly has plans in place to respond to negative postings online. Perhaps the Triumph incident was just such a huge operational mess that the PR team was beyond overwhelmed.
Prior to the social media revolution, public relations and communications pros spent most of their time worrying about what reporters said and wrote. Today, we have to watch multiple fronts. Social media's use as a news gathering and reporting tool by media outlets must always be part of the overall crisis communications plan.
Do you think Carnival can rehabilitate it's image? Do you have a plan in place to monitor social media for mentions involving your company?
Follow John P. David on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnpdavid