Costa Cruises has a mess on their hands. In addition to losing a ship, they are facing an environmental crisis; a public relations crisis; and the world is looking to see how well they handle it. And so far it has not been anything to write home about. While Costa Cruises, and their parent company Carnival Corporation, have seen their share of public relations nightmares before, don’t think that your agency is exempt from something similar.
With social media taking a lead in the Concordia disaster, the lines between verified fact, speculation, and outright fabrications have become very blurred. As of this writing, the only thing we do know is that the Captain did indeed abandon ship and there have been 12 confirmed deaths. I have read accounts of him falling overboard, ordering dinner while the ship started to sink, calling his mother from shore to let her know he was safe, to some odd visits from an attractive young crewmember. In the end, it will all sort out. I am a firm believer (for good or bad) that technology has indeed made privacy a thing of the past. However, there has been little public statement from Costa or Carnival Corporation. Is this the right move?
With social media playing such a large roll in any breaking news today, I believe that any company, small or large, must jump into the conversation in some meaningful way as soon as possible. All we need to do is look at the impact that Dave Carrol’s United Breaks Guitars had on United Airlines to grasp the strength of today’s social technology. And as a business to consumer entity, we must be keenly aware that with the click of a mouse, we could be on the receiving end of a bad situation.
Have you ever had a client that just could not be satisfied? I know I have. A while ago, I was blamed for the cool temperatures in the Scottish Highlands. Right or wrong, it was my fault and this client engaged others via email and Facebook. The gang mentality quickly came to the surface and began to spread to existing clients and prospects. Now most reasonable people understand that a travel agent cannot control the weather; but to quell the issue, I needed to post to my Facebook page, the itinerary where I included a “typical weather” situation. Once I responded, it calmed down and went away.
Imagine that you and another agency are going head to head to capture a group cruise by the alumni association of a local college. How much damage do you think that a few well placed Facebook posts or tweets could do? How would you handle it?
My best suggestion is to not ignore it. Like a snowball, it will only get bigger. Even if you need to simply say you are aware of the situation and will respond—it is better than nothing. If someone is being critical of you, your services, or your product; the issue is really not the issue, but your reaction to the issue. For all intents and purposes, you are not going to earn or regain the business of the complainer. There are far too many options to purchase travel today. However, you do risk losing the business or potential business of those who are watching this unfold. Jump into the conversation—it is happening with or without you. Let everyone know that you are working on it. Perhaps it is best to take it offline; ask the complainer for an email address or phone number. And sometimes, it makes sense to defend yourself up front and center.
Right now, Costa Cruises has a problem. People are questioning if cruising is safe. People are questioning the competency of every cruise ship captain. People are questioning their choice of cruise line. Costa and Carnival need to be in there answering those questions and addressing the concerns honestly. And from where I sit, I don’t see it happening.
When a PR disaster strikes, there is a bright spot. Today’s consumer has a very short memory. For all but the most serious issue, it will be forgotten in short time. It will roll off the feeds and be relegated to the archives only to be replaced with news of the next Kardashian wedding or the latest twist and turn in the emerging Penn State sex scandal. I am convinced that had Richard Nixon orchestrated the Watergate break-in today, by next week all that would be left is, “oh yeah, I read somewhere that Rick Nikon fell in the water somewhere.”