For the past two years, I have been interested in the use of Twitter as a method of educating the public about dangers on cruise ships. Dangers that are real. Dangers that the cruise lines don't want the public to read about.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter is well aware that I tweet daily on issues that the cruise lines don't discuss - sexual assaults of women and children, mistreatment of crewmembers, and the disappearances of people on the high seas.
Yes, I know that I am annoying. There are lots of cruise fans and travel agents on Twitter who use the #cruise hash-mark to market the joy of cruising, and I spoil the fun. 50% of the people who I interact with on a routine basis disagree with me 100% of the time it seems. But I know that my message is getting out there. I would like to think that if one parent realizes that its not safe to leave your kids unsupervised on a cruise ship, then my last 5,500 tweets have been a worthwhile exercise.
I am particularly fascinated by the way that cruise lines use Twitter and other social media. Are they engaging in discussions with the public where they address unpleasant subjects with candor and in the process develop a reputation of transparency? Or, are they just using Twitter and Facebook to create fan pages or other cult clubs? Do they run and hide when they read tweets critical of their business practices?
Earlier this week, I wrote an article about Oceania Cruises trying to convince a Judge in Miami to impose a limit of liability of only $65,000 in a case where it is alleged that an Oceania Cruises crewmember raped a 13 year old child on the Regatta cruise ship. Stories like this are important. Most parents don't understand the significant number of sexual assaults which occur on cruise ships. Few parents could possibly imagine that if a crewmember raped their little girl, the cruise line would try and make certain that the child didn't receive fair and just compensation for her physical and emotional injuries.
I tweeted a few references to my blog article about Oceania Cruise's disturbing behavior. I always invite a cruise line's response. I even invite disagreeing cruise lines and travel agents an opportunity to write a guest blog - unedited - to tell the other side of the story.
Oceania Cruises, which has been following me on Twitter for over a year, had no interest in discussing the story. Instead, it "un-followed" me.
"Unfollowing" critics seems like a poor way to manage a business' online reputation. Instead of explaining its conduct or at least expressing concern for the girl's well being, the cruise line just turned and ran.
Twitter is a proving ground of truth and transparency. Twitter is not a place where slick unprincipled marketers can withstand scrutiny. It is not a place where cowardly cruise lines like Oceania can survive.