Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Carnival Cruise Lines Use Social Media

Really good interview with Stephanie Leavitt of Carnival Cruise Lines over at eMarketer. In the interview, Stephanie spoke about Carnival’s social media campaign for its newest ship, the Magic, and the kinds of marketing that resonate with Carnival’s Facebook fans. Here are some of the highlights from the interview.

eMarketer: What is your social media strategy for 2011?

Stephanie Leavitt: Social media is now a big component of our overall marketing strategy. We try to embed a little bit of social media in pretty much everything that we do. Our goal is to help educate consumers on the value of cruising, and specifically, we’re trying to use social media to better connect with first-time cruisers—people who have never cruised before.

DW: I harp on this a lot, but social media is not a stand-alone marketing channel. It needs to be incorporated into everything you do.

eMarketer: What lessons have you learned so far from using Facebook?

Leavitt: Our biggest lesson learned is that social media changes at a pace that I think marketers are not really used to. It’s incredible. The Facebook platform changes, the policy changes, the way people use it changes all the time. We’re just trying to keep up with that and make sure that whatever we’re developing is easily adaptable. (Carnival’s Facebook fan base grew from 45,000 at the end of 2009 to 510,000 today.)

DW: That is a very impressive growth in Facebook fans in 12 months.

eMarketer: What has proven successful to get consumers to interact with your Facebook fan page?

Leavitt: I’ve found that the key to making a page successful is really good content and providing some sort of utility for Facebook users. While a game can be fun and cool the first few times you use it, if there’s an interesting conversation going on the page, it always brings you back. So we try to focus on user-generated content.

DW: I think this is an important point. Too often I see marketers overload pages with games to try and keep people coming back to the site, when instead if they focused just on great content, users will return over and over in order to be part of the conversation.

eMarketer: You introduced a tab of your Facebook page featuring content about the Carnival Magic ship, which debuts in Europe on May 1. What elements are part of this tab?

Leavitt: We used it to help consumers build part of the Magic. We have an Italian eatery, Cucina Del Capitano, aboard ship and we asked people to go on Facebook and submit names for a pasta dish. We selected a name, and it’s going to be printed on the menu. Right now, we’re 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, we profile a different crew member. We’ve done the cruise director, the captain and some senior staff, so people can learn a little bit more about them.

eMarketer: What are the challenges with this campaign?

Leavitt: The biggest challenge, which I guess is a good challenge to have, is that we’ve had so many people participating that it’s hard to keep up—moderating contest entries, interacting with everybody, making sure that we get out there. We thank people for leaving comments, try to get crew members to answer people’s questions and post in a timely manner.

DW: This is not an uncommon problem for companies. Doing social media well takes resources and the companies that dedicate resources to it are the ones that are successful. If managing your corporate Facebook page is one of 20 responsibilities you have, what are you going to do when you get busy?

eMarketer: Overall, how has the cruise industry embraced social media, and Facebook in particular?

Leavitt: Cruising is a social thing. When you go on a cruise, you talk to people—there are people all around you on the ship. So social media just resonates with it.

But when you’re researching the cruise, your impression is really dependent on peer recommendations. With Facebook, you can go in and see your friends’ recommendations. It makes it that much more enticing and relevant when, instead of reading a regular review, you’re reading a review from one of your closest friends. It’s much more credible.

eMarketer: Do you use ratings and reviews from customers in your social media outreach?

Leavitt: Yes. Carnival’s own social network, Carnival Connections, had a review section and we’ve had some form of reviews available since 2006. Now they’re on Carnival.com. We take some of those reviews and we integrate them in some of our email marketing. We feature them on different sections of Carnival.com. And we’ve even tried doing video reviews. When we’re on the ship and we have a video producer there, he’ll interview people, and then we have video interviews on our Facebook page and in Carnival.com’s Funville community.

eMarketer: Is there anything else you are working on when it comes to social media?

Leavitt: We just launched our cruise shopper tab, which lets people book cruises directly on Facebook. We had a cruise finder tab up for three months before that, and we saw a lot of people using it to search for cruises and share information with their friends on Facebook, so we took it a step further.

It’s really just a test for now. We don’t envision this changing the way people book cruises online. It was more, “Let’s test the waters.” The full booking engine has been up for less than a month. No one’s bold enough to come out and say, “We’re going to make a million dollars on this.” But it’s definitely something worth trying.

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