As promised, I am finally blogging about travel, tourism and beautiful paradise cruises. However, there’s a catch. With the beautiful paradise cruise, comes a big crash: a social media marketing crash.
A few months ago, Royal Caribbean Cruises hit an iceberg with its online audiences through a deceiving social media campaign. Using online bulletin boards, Royal Caribbean spread the word about trip packages and information about the company. There’s no problem there, right? Right. But Royal Caribbean went a step farther. With the success of the message boards, the company decided to create a program titled “Royal Champions” that enlisted Royal Caribbean fans and frequent message board posters. These “frequent posters” just so happened to be the fans who strictly wrote about Royal Caribbean in a positive light.
And then, the cruise line went another step farther. The “Royal Champions” were awarded with an all expenses paid trip to the pre-inaugural sailing of the newest Royal Caribbean ship “Liberty of the Seas.”According to a blog post by Customer Insight Group Inc., message board posts by the “Royal Champions” were monitored both before and after the event to ensure that the posts remained positive and frequent.
Although some customers have responded well to this on various travel Web sites, like Cruise Critic, there are still many online travelers who are wary of Royal Caribbean’s motives. According to an article on MSNBC.com, Royal Caribbean did not disclose information about the “Royal Champions” online or elsewhere. The company also used software to detect the most positive and frequent responses from message board posters to select the “Royal Champions” group.
Through keeping this “fan” group a secret, Royal Caribbean made a huge mistake. I cannot stress this enough: Transparency is essential to social media marketing. If there is something going on behind closed doors, bloggers and social media participants will find it. When the information has to be found, instead of willingly shared, it puts the company in a deceptive light — whether the original intention was good or bad.
However, hiding the creation of the “Royal Champions” doesn’t even scratch the surface of transparency issues. Royal Caribbean essentially participated in “astrotrufing,” also called “fake grassroots.” The company clearly had an agenda when seeking the message board posters, or Royal Caribbean “fans,” through specialized software. There was also a clear agenda when they sent these positive posters on an all-expenses-paid vacation. In reality, Royal Caribbean was paying these online posters to continue to write positive things about the company, without revealing they were doing so.
Royal Caribbean has responded on a few different aspects of this social media marketing mess. Most of which have stated the “Royal Champions” are strictly a focus group for the company to test and pitch new ideas to. Since when is a successful focus group composed strictly of people who are self-proposed “Royal Caribbean Fanatics”? Not only does that completely dissolute the company’s research results, it also makes for a bad excuse. According to an article on Tripso.com, when the associate vice president of marketing at Royal Caribbean International was asked if he thought “Royal Champions” should identify themselves in posts for the campaign to be transparent, he said that Royal Caribbean did not address that issue, and added, “We left that up to the Royal Champions and individual board owners.” Bad answer. That is exactly what needs to be addressed. If the “Royal Champion” posters were identified on the boards, there would be some sort of evidence of transparency within the company and the marketing campaign.
Some time has passed and Royal Caribbean continues to use the help of the “Royal Champions” to its benefit. Royal Caribbean now runs the risk of being seen through a jaded-view when authentic, whole-hearted positive reviews show up online. The question will now be, “Is this a real review or one they bought?”
With the communication channels changing, the rules are also changing. In attempts to better the bottom line through this new social media wave, some businesses are instead misusing this potential means for profit.