Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Sea Change

As I have frequently written in my blog posts, social media represents a sea change in the way corporations and other business entities communicate with the public, especially in a crisis. Therefore it should be no surprise that according to a recent article in PRWeek, social media was a key channel for Carnival Cruise Lines in its crisis communications response to the fire aboard its Splendor cruise ship earlier this month. In addition to proactively distributing news updates to conventional media, Carnival also communicated updates by posting them on, Facebook, Twitter and Jennifer de la Cruz, director of public relations for Carnival, told PRWeek that, "Our key messages . . . focused on providing assurances that everyone was safe, the status of the situation on board and any updates to the plan for returning the ship to port and, of paramount importance, communicating our apologies and acknowledging the difficult environment on board."

The day before the Splendor was towed into San Diego, the ship's cruise director, John Heald, made a post about the conditions aboard ship on his popular personal blog. Heald's blog post was picked up by major media outlets such as USA Today, which commented:
The ship's famously saucy cruise director, John Heald, has just posted a lengthy, startlingly candid account of the first few minutes of the crisis on his personal blog, which is widely followed by cruise fans. . . . In an account that mixes both seriousness and Heald's trademark humor, the longtime Carnival staffer goes on to explain both the severity of the situation that he witnessed on the ship's bridge and the crew's heroic response.
My colleague, Chris Gidez, was interviewed by PRWeek about Carnival's crisis communications response and provided the following analysis:
Chris Gidez, head of US crisis/issues management group for Hill & Knowlton, calls the early blog post by Heald "brilliant. The first rule in crisis management is to regain control of the agenda and conversation." [Gidez] says that's especially important in a situation like this, where passengers are now starting to talk to media and no doubt will share their own detailed accounts online. "The cruise community is very engaged and active online. There will probably be video shared too, and it will likely go viral," says Gidez. "While we can expect to hear stories of long lines, no air conditioning, rude crew members, etc., there will be just as many who applaud the performance of the line."

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