Cruising is absolutely my most favorite thing to do for a vacation. I’ve been on four so far, and believe me, they’ve been some of the best experiences of my life and I’ve met a lot of great people. In 2004 I took my first cruise and I booked it through a travel agent (I know what you’re thinking…travel agent, what’s that?). The last cruise I booked directly through the cruise line (much less of a hassle). I didn’t research which was the best cruise line or rely on consumer reviews, I pretty much flew by the seat of my pants. But that’s not how it’s done these days. When we are researching vacations, our impressions are really dependent on what our friends recommend and that’s where Facebook can come into play. As with Facebook, cruising is a social thing. When you take a cruise, you talk to people from all walks of life. There are lots of people all around you on the boat, so social media goes hand in hand with it. With Facebook, you can go in and see your friends’ recommendations. It makes it that much more credible and relevant when you’re reading a review from one of your closest friends.
The cruise industry has embraced social media as one of their marketing strategies. Carnival Cruise Lines has done a great job of integrating Facebook into theirs. Carnival’s social media goal is to help educate consumers on the value of cruising, and specifically, better connect with people who have never cruised before. Carnival’s Facebook fan base is over 530,000 today, growing from around 45,000 at the end of 2009.
Carnival has found, like many other businesses that the key to making a page successful is really good content and providing some sort of utility for Facebook users, all the while trying to focus on user-generated content. One of their strategies to encourage more consumer interaction was the introduction of a tab on their Facebook page featuring their newest ship, Carnival Magic, set to debut in May. They used it to help consumers build part of the Magic. They asked people to go on Facebook and submit names for a pasta dish for their Italian eatery. In turn, Carnival selected a name, and it’s going to be printed on the menu. Right now, they are running a contest for people to suggest names for a mini golf course. The Facebook tab also has behind-the-scenes videos and a meet-the-crew feature. Every month, they profile a different crew member so people can learn more about the staff. So far, they’ve done the cruise director, the captain and some senior staff. And, they just recently launched their cruise shopper tab, which lets people book cruises directly on Facebook. Right now they are just testing it and they don’t envision this changing the way people book their cruises online, but there’s potential.
As with any campaign, there are some challenges. In Carnival’s case, it’s a good one. They have had so many people participating that it’s hard to keep up – from moderating contest entries and interacting with users, to trying to get crew members to answer questions and post in a timely manner.
In the end, the biggest lesson that Carnival has learned is that social media changes at an incredible pace. Not only does the Facebook platform change, but the way people use it changes all the time. Carnival is just trying to keep up with that and make sure that whatever they are developing is easily adaptable to the user.