Cruise industry sails into social waters

Not all that long ago major cruise lines, like many other industries, did not have much time for social media. They gave Facebook, Twitter, bloggers and other social platforms half a look then settled back into their comfy traditional marketing chairs, content with business as usual.

They didn’t get it.

Lately though, the tide has turned and cruise lines are getting on board for what looks to be a wild ride.

Today we see major campaigns aimed at engaging us in a conversation. This is the stuff that brought terror into the hearts of cruise line executives not all that long ago. They did not understand what to do with social media.

Today we see lines like Carnival Cruise Lines diving in head first on several fronts. That’s important because Carnival Corp, parent of Carnival Cruise Lines (@CarnivalCruise) and many others including Princess Cruises (@PrincessCruises) and Holland America Line (@HalCruises) often sets the pace other lines will follow in all sorts of stuff.

Most recently, Gadling told you about Carnival sailing to Times Square for New Years Eve where the line will drop a ton of confetti on the crowd at midnight. Carnival will cross the line into social engagement in a big way that night. Much of that confetti will come from visitors to New York’s Times Square who stopped by the line’s “wishing wall”. There, they will hand-write their hopes and dreams for 2011 on red, white and blue slips of paper to be included in the drop on to party-goers at Midnight. It doesn’t get a whole lot more engaging than that.

But that event is just the most recent social effort by Carnival. The line’s senior cruise director John Heald has a popular long-running blog, the company’s twitter handle (@CCLSupport) answers questions issues swiftly and the line’s website promotes more interactivity than ever before.

Carnival gets it.

They are not the only ones either. Princess Cruises has thoughtfully entered the social arena with their Twitter #FollowMeAtSea trips where travel bloggers and writers were invited along for an actual cruise to write and blog about. They shared their experiences with loyal followers on Twitter and Facebook, bringing them along for the ride. I was on the last one, a 12-day cruise tour through Alaska in June.

On that Twitter press trip, Princess defined just how globally penetrating active social engagement can be for cruise lines.

Along for the ride were a wide, diverse variety of bloggers and photographers from around the planet including Emmy award-winning JD Andrews (@earthXplorer), funny-man Rick Griffin (@MidLifeRoadTrip), Canadian adventure-couple Debra Corbeil and Dave Bouskill (@theplanetd) and Gadling’s Catherine Bodry. Homespun mid-westerner Beth Blair (@BethBlair) was there alongside Germany’s Emlyn Boecher from international travel icon @Traveldudes and Liz Wright (@Travelogged) along with luxury travel expert Carrie Finley-Bajak (@Cruisebuzz) to round out the group.

Communicating with followers from all corners of the world, Princess began a conversation that continues today and has expanded to include more than simply promoting the line’s products, raising awareness on global topics like environmental concerns down to micro-interests like dog sled racing.

Princess gets it. Industry-wide, it’s an evolving effort as cruise lines work on opening and maintaining an ongoing conversation with us.

Royal Caribbean tried and failed on Twitter by posting last-minute discount pricing without the engagement factor. The whole idea of using social media outlets as just another place to paste advertising has not been well-received by a public looking for transparency and engagement. Still, Royal Caribbean is evolving too with old-school efforts like giving away a free cruise to the audience on Oprah’s My Favorite Things while working a very active Facebook page and a popular Presidents Blog where President and CEO Adam Goldstein posts regularly.

In the lead for executive participation though is Norwegian Cruise lines with Executive Vice-President Andy Stuart (@NCLAndy) the first and only cruise line executive on Twitter. The line successfully integrated the launch of new mega-ship Norwegian Epic in a very social way by inviting along an A-list of cruise and travel bloggers like Vegas red-carpet brother team Bill Cody (@VegasBill) and Chris Rauschnot (@24K) along with TV’s Stewart Chiron (@CruiseGuy) and Radio’s Doug Parker and Matt Bassford (@CruiseRadio). Like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian has not turned its back on traditional media either though as President and CEO Kevin Sheehan takes to the airwaves this week on an episode of CBS’s reality show Undercover Boss.

Look for more social efforts by cruise lines in the near future too as more lines “get it”, realize the benefits of engaging existing and would-be passengers and move forward into social arenas. It should be a wild ride.

Flickr photo by Port of San Diego