Lessons from this year’s Biggest Public Relations Crises

The Carnival Triumph

Photo Courtesy of huffingtonpost.com.

The Carnival Triumph was stranded at sea for five days in February. The press ran with the disaster, and the “#cruisefromhell” quickly became a top story. During the ship’s five days trapped at sea, thousands of articles, shares, tweets, and mentions circulated, damaging Carnival’s brand. Public Relations disasters are inevitable, and when they happen, our industry is usually tasked with cleaning up the mess. Lately, Abercrombie & Fitch has been under fire from comments made by their CEO, Mike Jeffries in a 2006 Salon interview. But this Public Relations disaster pales in comparison to a crisis from earlier in the year.

In our imperfect world, we can’t completely control disasters like fires stranding a cruise ship, but we can control how we react during and after such a crisis. Let’s review some of the lessons this situation taught us:

Lessons Learned

1. Don’t add fuel to the fire

Carnival’s twitter account, @CarnivalCruise, tweeted 67 times about the disaster as it was going on. Most tweets got 5-15 ReTweets and a couple of replies. But when they tweeted “Of course the bathrobes for the Carnival Triumph are complimentary,” they got 566 ReTweets, 96 favorites, and close to 50 replies.

This tweet was a HUGE mistake for Carnival. It made Carnival look rude and sarcastic, and was completely counterproductive to any other message they were trying to convey.

Never post anything that will give your audience the opportunity to create even more negative buzz. Instead, focus on the positive actions being taken and give realistic updates of the situation. Always use an upbeat and respectful tone.

2. Interact, Don’t Ignore 

In those 67 tweets, Carnival posted links to press releases, statements from their CEO, and updates from the sea. But they only responded to a customer one time. While they did a good job of keeping their social media updated throughout the crisis, Carnival ignored the concerns and statements of their customers.

Social Media is a two-way street. We especially need to keep this in mind during crises. Use your social media platforms to respond to concerns and criticisms when these events happen. It will make you seem more approachable, and will remind customers that you are doing your best to clean up the mess.

3. Take Action Immediately

Carnival did not release a statement from their CEO until almost three days after the disaster began. Because news travels so quickly in our world, most people had already jumped to their own conclusions about the situation by this time. This delay in reaction caused the audience to believe that Carnival was not properly handling the situation, or worse, was ignoring it.

Make sure you send out a statement from the highest possible executive as soon as possible. This is the best way to communicate to an audience that a crisis is being addressed and that a company cares about what is going on. Also, remember to always start with an apology. If your company is responsible for people’s misfortune, you should address that first with an apology and then continue on with the steps that are being taken to avoid future misfortunes.

4. Change The Conversation

Within hours of this disaster’s start, the hashtag “#cruisefromhell” surfaced all over social networks. Over the last few months, this hashtag collected thousands of tweets and posts, and became synonymous with the Carnival Triumph.

Carnival couldn’t control the tweets being published under this hashtag, but they could have created their own to counter the situation. If they had created a hashtag that positively highlighted aspects of the situation, the conversation would’ve been completely different. They could have included pictures of the crew helping guests, or videos of people helping each other while on board.

Try to come up with ways to put a positive spin on the situation, and refocus the conversation with your posts.