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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Are some cruise reviews and comments really unbiased commentary?

We came across a story at msnbc.com that we think is worth a discussion. Here are some excerpts and a link to read the entire article where you will find links related to the discussion. What's your opinion about what's going on?
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Does cruise line’s viral campaign cross the line?
Royal Caribbean’s marketing strategy enlists rabid fans to spread the word.

Talk about a royal mess.

In early 2007, Royal Caribbean developed a marketing strategy that used online bulletin boards to spread the cruise line’s gospel, so to speak. The company created a program, dubbed “Royal Champions,” that enlisted rabid Royal Caribbean fans who happened to be frequent posters on Internet cruise bulletin boards like Cruise Critic.

Did its program cross the line.....

.....a recent blog post on marketing site Customer Insight Group revealed more insight into the program than Royal Caribbean disclosed in the interview.

The post cites how the cruise line worked with Nielsen Buzz Metrics to “identify enthusiastic online supporters of Royal Caribbean.”

By utilizing a “complex formula of data mining,” the cruise line selected 50 individuals based on the “quality and quantity of their posts with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics,” the Consumer Insights Group article said. The majority of posts were found on Cruise Critic. After individuals were chosen for the program, their posts were “carefully monitored during events and on a regular basis to ensure that posts remain positive and frequent.”

The post also states that Royal Champions were rewarded with all-expense paid pre-inaugural sailings along with invites to events and cocktail parties hosted by Royal Caribbean executives.

“The key to success in viral marketing is to subtly influence the influencers without them overtly realizing they are being influenced.”

Friend or faux?
The Customer Insight Group blog post made its way to the Cruise Critic boards where it has irked many of the line’s most loyal customers.

For the uninitiated, message boards feature comments posted by individuals using made-up online names used to preserve their anonymity. Since Royal Champions are not identified when they post many feel the lack of transparency and the fact that free cruises are given as an incentive to post is wrong.

To be sure, there are some shades of gray in between what consumer voice is heard. In the Customer Insight Group blog post a Royal Caribbean executive says that posts from Royal Champions are “carefully monitored during events and on a regular basis to ensure that posts remain positive and frequent.” The executive noted that due to the “ample word of mouth and exert sufficient influence” the investment in the Royal Champion program has been “worthwhile.”

That leaves a number of questions. Can you believe what is posted? Is the poster a genuine fan or someone who is being coerced to post only plentiful positive news? Lastly, does a forum cease becoming neutral territory for users when it allows an outside corporation to use members for marketing purposes?

Sadly, exuberance of a cruise line can come at a moral price when a mob of fans disagrees with a reader’s post. Like them or not, online cruise message boards are now part of the pool of intelligence gathering and rumor swapping used (and manipulated) by travel agents, cruise line employees, rabid cruise fans, investors, media and the curious to track the performance of a cruise line.

You’ve been warned.

Find the full story here:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29554810/

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