@PrincessCruises invited a number of well known travel bloggers on a Caribbean Cruise. The folks at Princess Cruises must have been excited about all the social media they were going to generate. While the captain of the ship had his eye on the weather, (even changing the cruise route to avoid the worst of a seasonal tropical storm ) a hurricane was brewing online under the twitter hash tag used for the event #followmeatsea by cruise industry opponents.
For an overview read Pam Mandel’s recap of the brouhaha or Nellie Huang’s post that also captures the discussion on the ethics of complimentary travel for bloggers. See the #twethics tag for more on the ethics of host-paid travel blogging.
Three stories seem to be at the centre of this storm:
* the ethics of complimentary travel
* the environmental impact of cruise ships
* travel writer in-fighting
But the real story is about the openness of social networks and the Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media
The Story behind the Seven Deadly Sins
For Princess Cruises, no one was at the helm as cruise industry opponents (one in particular) from beyond the ship hijacked the hashtag and stormed the ship with challenges on the ethics of the cruise travel industry. Interestingly, the target of the attacks wasn’t Princess Cruises, but the travel writers on board.
Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media
Deadly Sin #1. Thinking you can control social media.
Social Media is beyond anyones control. You can create a hashtag, but anyone can post to it. Expect it. Influential bloggers and microbloggers can control a conversation from inside or outside your event
Deadly Sin #2. Being unprepared for negative social media.
Know your foe. Know the arguments others will make against your business or event and be prepared to defend your position. Public relations damage control needs to be in place before your event begins. Think about what issues could be raised and plan the best way to respond.
Bloggers were taken behind the scenes on a five hour ship tour that revealed many impressive facts about the cruise ships environmental practices.
As Kim Mance tweeted:
@PrincessCruises could have tweeted weeks before the cruise:
PrincessCruises: We look forward to showcasing our environmental efforts with an extensive behind the scenes tour for bloggers!
If your tourism product, service, or experience has shortcomings, address them. Astoundingly: 85 % of hotels DO NOT have guidelines for Social Media (Market Metrix / TripAdvisor).
Deadly Sin #3. Expecting others to protect your brand.
You can invite a blogger to blog, a twitter to tweet, but they cannot defend your brand in the social media space against those whose mission is to devalue your brand. In the absence of a brand manager on this cruise, the bloggers became targets for direct abuse, and in some cases their emotional responses may tarnish whatever media they ultimately produce.
I had communications with one of the bloggers (prior to the ships departure) about her desire to report on the environmental impacts of the cruise and her concerns about sustainable tourism. Unfortunately bloggers who now report on the environmental, ethical, responsible practices of Princess Cruises will look like shills for their hosts; responding to a conversation that was driven by a cruise industry foe, particularly in light of the paid-for nature of the trip.
Deadly Sin #4. Being deaf to the conversation:
Ignorance of the Tweet is no excuse. Numerous tools permit listening and filtering social media. As this cruise event was going on I used Twitter to voice displeasure with @disqus blog commenting system in a tweet. @Disqus was listening. Customer service response was immediate.
They fixed my problem, I became a fan. Was @PrincessCruises listening to the conversation as the tempest was brewing?
Deadly Sin #5. Taking Time to Respond
Respond immediately to criticism. Responding, can resolve issues before they grow into a huge wave of consumer defection and can transform your foes into fans. In the best case, you can know when your guest is unhappy before they leave. Address their concerns before they have the time to share them with the world.
@PrincessCruises waited more than 48 hours after the peak of the online storm before posting a link to their environmental policy (copyright 2008). Why the delay? A significant amount of mis-information was passed off as fact in micro-blog posts by cruise opponents in the intervening two days.
According to TripAdvisor only 4% of negative reviews get a response. Negative social media is the biggest missed opportunity for most businesses. To consumers, a company responding is cast in a favorable light (Compete Inc., 2007).
Deadly Sin #6. Responding in Public to a Passionate Foe
In many cases it might be best to take an emotionally charged conversation out of the public channel. Direct communication can be less emotional and more constructive than dealing with a passionate foe reacting with emotion in a public space. During this event I exchanged direct twitter messages with people on and off the ship in order to understand and appreciate the issues and the best way for all parties to achieve desired outcomes. Engage with your foes by listening and responding to concerns directly.
Deadly Sin #7. Charging folks for Internet Access
Bloggers on this cruise have access to social media with complimentary WiFi. Make it easy for your fans to share their stories using social media by giving away the WiFi! Sure having guests pay for WiFi generates revenue, but instant uploads from twittering bloggers can deliver more long term value in form of customers. Since 1/3 of travelers have posted comments or blog posts on trips, it makes sense to allow your guests to access the Web so they can influence their family, friends and followers while they are visiting. Move the cost of WiFi from your infrastructure costs to your marketing/public relations budget. Then encourage your guests to use it.