Royal Caribbean Cruises its way into a Social Media Mess

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.

35290307_9f3f57df99A 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. 52379224keyboard

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.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Royal Caribbean Cruises its way into a Social Media Mess

  1. Lisa Hass

    I have always wondered how often this happens locally with restaurants, hair salons and spas. I have noticed that many times there is only one review and it is glowing. Is there no regulation in making evaluations of businesses? I’m no techie, but aren’t there evaluative companies that just collect reviews and post for different businesses?

    The entire Royal Carribean thing is tacky and makes me more aware of this type of marketing in general. Thanks for opening my eyes to this-

  2. Great post! You make some great points.

    This is a bit upsetting considering I’ve gone on several cruises, and I especially love the Royal Caribbean line.

    Who at Royal Caribbean thought this was good idea?! Like you mentioned, any fishiness will be uncovered. I don’t understand why some companies are still risking transparency in favor of looking good with only favorable words on the Web. Other companies have made this mistake before -most notably the Edelman/Wal-Mart fiasco – and it always backfires.

  3. rhass2

    Mrs. Hass 🙂

    It is more of an ethical issue than a legal issue. There isn’t any legal regulation on things like this, and it would be hard to do so in such a large online atmosphere.

    It really takes a good business or organization to use the internet and social media to its advantage, while having a strong ethical code as to how they handle that type of business. There are a lot of businesses that are fully transparent and prove that by leaving the negative comments, and responding to them. It makes for a better relationship with the customers, and instills a trust in the company.

    BUT, as you can see, a lot of companies choose not to use a code of ethics. Instead, many of them think that one negative comment will ruin the business, when in reality, it could better the relationship with the customers and help the business.

  4. rhass2

    Courtney,

    Yes! I heard about the Wal-Mart fiasco. When does Wal-Mart NOT have a fiasco, haha.

    Royal Caribbean is awesome, they just don’t understand the ethics behind social media and the correct way to use it. What they need are recent college grads like us who can show them the ropes behind social media 🙂

  5. alott

    I have always been very interested in the validity of such online networks. If used properly, social media can be a great way to discuss real issues and personal perspectives; however, if misused, it hinders ones ability to trust such information. Honestly — it has been a dream of mine to work as a Royal Caribbean fitness leader post graduation. What a great and fun way to see the world huh? However, it is unnerving that unethical practices abused the social networks. Additionally, whoever is managing Royal Caribbean’s public relations is in a mess. It is now the individual’s responsibility to ethically fix the dilemma — what a mess.

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