Just like the captain, Carnival left the social ship as it sank


What if Titanic hit the iceberg killing the same number of people, but somehow managed to keep its four smokestacks above water for the world to see?

Welcome to Carnival Cruise Lines‘ daily nightmare scenario. And because this is such an enormous challenge, its leaders hit the ‘duck and cover’ button instead of the ‘transparent and open’ one. Big mistake. Read:

http://bit.ly/zR720C

The crisis management coda that describes this situation best is that the coverup is worse than the crime. In this case, it’s not possible to “cover up” a floating Yankee Stadium lying on its side in an Italian marine preserve off the Tuscan coast.

But by scorning Twitter and Facebook, by retreating from social media, Carnival executives did the opposite of what they should do. And it’s not too late to change.

Crisis management demands more information, not less. The “crime” in this case is there for the world to see. No hiding it. As Glenn Engler observes, the social media world rulers [all of us] want transparency and communication so they can interact.

At this point, it’s the interaction that’s foremost, not whether the story Carnival tells is good or bad. People want to share the pain as a way of getting over it. The social media, McLuhan global village we live and partake in put all of us on the Costa Concordia Jan. 13; without lifeboat drills; in the dark; in our life vests; struggling to survive.

If you don’t grasp that reality, you’ll never get over the modern era crisis.

This is not just about 4,200 passengers, it’s about 4.2 million people who imagine themselves, via the media sophistication they’ve come to rely on, sharing that experience.

The ‘couple from Minnesota‘ presumed drowned inside the hulking hull is not an abstract or anonymous pair of travelers from a state most of us never visited. They are our friends, our parents, our siblings, our neighbors in the global village.

Yet even if you don’t fully grasp the dynamics of social media and how it made the world universal, if you are a Carnival executive you have to realize this: You cannot be on Facebook and Twitter merrily tweeting and liking and asking potential customers to come enjoy your cruises and then walk away when the ship hits the fan. Or the reef. Man up.

Social media is a two-way street, a social contract. Keep information flowing, even if all you have to relate is what you perceive as bad news. BP didn’t do a ton right in the Gulf oil spill, but it stayed out there swinging, throwing counter punches, communicating.

[Credit that superior headline to EMA Senior Partner and agency PR Director Greg Loh, who focused Carnival‘s problem and mistake perfectly.]

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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