Royal Caribbean Caught Infiltrating Review Sites With Viral Marketing Team

Meet the “Royal Caribbean Champions,” a group of fifty prolific posters to popular online communities that Royal Caribbean rewards with special access and free cruises in exchange for their frequent and positive commentary. The Champions were outed by their creators, the Customer Insight Group, which boasted on their company blog that the potent group is “regularly leveraged for ongoing marketing initiates. Members of the popular reviewing site Cruise Critic, one of the main targets of the program, are understandably pissed.

The Customer Insight Group provides an excellent summary of the pernicious program’s goals:

Identifying Brand Advocates: Royal Caribbean worked with Nielsen Buzz Metrics to identify enthusiastic online supporters of Royal Caribbean. Using a combination of automated and manual techniques, they identified online communities that discuss Royal Caribbean Cruises. Relying on data mining software and human expertise in word-of-mouth analysis, they measured awareness, identifying emergent qualitative themes of discussion on blogs, travel forums, usernets to gain a better understanding of how consumers discuss Royal Caribbean cruises. Fifty Royal Caribbean Champions were chosen for both quality and quantity of posts with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics. While Champions were primarily found on Cruise Critic, they also posted on travel communities, usenet groups, travel blogs and personal journals.

Influencing Brand Advocates: In May 2007, the Royal Champions community of online enthusiasts was invited to their first big event, the pre-inaugural sailings of our newest ship Liberty of the Seas in New York and Miami. This was the first time in the company’s history that invitees to pre-inaugural sailings were “ordinary people” i.e. not VIP’s, corporate executives, or top producing travel agent. Royal Caribbean hosted ship and stateroom tours and cocktail parties with executives. President Adam Goldstein hosted the New York party and CEO Richard Fain hosted the Miami party. The events generated abundant positive word-of-mouth on various sites and created a cohesive community of Royal Caribbean online enthusiasts that are regularly leveraged for ongoing marketing initiatives.

Measuring Success: While difficult to measure precisely, based on observation and anecdotal evidence we are confident that the Royal Champions produce ample word of mouth and exert sufficient influence to make the investment worthwhile. Posts from Royal Champions are carefully monitored during events and on a regular basis to ensure that posts remain positive and frequent.

The program’s existence by itself isn’t objectionable. Every industry is a carrier for public relations parasites, but most so-called public relations professionals adhere to a code of conduct that includes a clear disclosure of their affiliation. As the Customer Insight Group acknowledges, “the key to success in viral marketing is to subtly influence the influencers without them overtly realizing they are being influenced.”

Since their posts are “carefully monitored,” Royal Caribbean Champions should be required to clearly disclose their role as Royal Caribbean mouthpieces so other readers can fairly and fully evaluate their comments.

Influencing Brand Advocates [Customer Insight Group Loyalty Blog]
Default Royal Champions Vereses the rest of us [Cruise Critic via Tripso]

Comments

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  1. frodolives35 says:

    Heres a big surprise a group that sells out for profit how shocking.

  2. misterfuss says:

    When I go on my next cruise, I will DEFINITELY go with Royal Caribbean since they have the cleanest, most modern, luxurious ships on the seas! And the ports of call are all so exotic too. All this for such reasonable prices.

    (Umm…do I get my free cruise now?)

  3. Nate128 says:

    So let me get this straight: you’re in danger of being sued for writing a negative review (I think about that lady with the dentist a while back) and then there are groups of people who are paid to write positive reviews? So… is anyone going to tell the truth out there? At all?

  4. Stephmo says:

    Wait a second…the internets aren’t always true…oh, no, now I’ll have to think twice about my daily Harriet Klausner book recommendations!

  5. bohemian says:

    When are companies going to figure out that this kind of deception will always eventually be found out and when it does it will cause a big negative backlash.

    Most of the “omg they are sooo wonderful” posts are so obvious that they are schills. Or someone eventually outs the whole project and it blows up in their face.

    The combination of businesses harassing people for giving negative reviews and attempts to plant whitewashed fake reviews is downright scummy.

    Someone in marketing cooked up this idea and as usually nobody bothered to think of the consequences.

  6. Canino says:

    with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics

    Good grief – these people must do nothing but take cruises and write about taking cruises…they wouldn’t have time for anything else.

    usernets

    Fail.

  7. glass_slipper says:

    So not surprised – I read Cruise Critic for awhile before/after I took my first (and probably last) cruise – there seemed to be a lot of over-the-top shilling go on there on a daily basis in the forums and reviews, totally ridiculous.

    I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that Carnival does the same or similar thing – who else gets defensive about a 25-year cruise ship still in service on a major line anyway?

    • dantsea says:

      @glass_slipper: It’s a shame about Cruise Critic, too. It used to be a nice site filled with helpful, friendly posters. Now, between the shills and a large group of regular posters who seem to have a permanent crappy attitude about everything, it’s the last place I’d point out to someone considering a cruise. The site is a sewer.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @glass_slipper: It’s like the Head.Fi.org of cruising!

      Defending a 25-year old ship is like the guy who said “aftermarket cables are a lot like headamps-they really don’t start getting good until the $250 mark and above. “

      That was in reference to a f***ing power cord!

      [www.head-fi.org]

      I love the how the cables need to be “broken in” for 10 weeks – 2 weeks longer than most credit card chargeback quotas…

  8. evarga says:

    Just one look at the mentality and the arguments on the first page of that thread pretty much the hard-core “cruisers” we’ve met. We had to take a cruise in order to tour the Galapagos Islands….we got the feeling that a lot of people on our ship took the trip in order to cross it off a list (and brag to other cruisers) than to experience one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.

    • From the cubicle of PGibbons says:

      @evarga: You spend twice as much time *dining* inside those floating hotels than you do at a Port of Call. “Ecotourism” seems like more of an excuse to destroy several other ecosystems in the quest to view another one.

  9. MsAnthropy says:

    FFS, maybe if companies would make this much effort trying to actually be any good, they wouldn’t feel the need to have people lie about it.

    Stories like this make me never, ever want to do business with companies that pull this sleazy crap. Are a few gushingly enthusiastic fake reviews really worth the huge amount of negative publicity that ensues when it all comes to light?

  10. racordes says:

    Well, I’m not a shill and I love Royal Caribbean. I based my choice of a cruise line on experiences that people I know tell me about. I was not disappointed by following advice of friends and acquaintances. I don’t cruise often enough to get any special deals but RCCL will always be my first choice.
    I have a feeling other cruise companies probably do the same thing. Other companies do, just look at the reviews on Amazon.

    • scoobydoo says:

      @racordes: The big difference is that the paid reviewers on Amazon have a label that clearly mentions their status.

      • RedwoodFlyer says:

        @scoobydoo: Not all of them…. Amazon is abound with shill reviewers who pretend to be a random end-user.

        Have you already forgotten the consumerist post about how Belkin posted job listings ON AMAZON for people to write shill reviews?

  11. TEW says:

    This is nothing new. Look at the car reviews in your local paper. They always like the car and only point out a very minor problem so they look unbiased. I feel that if the review site or publication is taking advertisement money the review is worthless. Also you very rarely hear that a movie is awful from the media because they fear they won’t get the movie houses won’t toss them an interview.

    • RedwoodFlyer says:

      @TEW: Car and Driver is like that too…any gushing “review” is always followed by an ad for the same car!

  12. cookmefud says:

    they spend all this money carefully monitoring their image in blogs and such on the internets, yet have iggy pop singing about shooting smack as their theme song.

    …seems like an odd marketing approach.

  13. missdona says:

    You want to the cruise critic people to go crazy?

    Just suggest skipping the muster (safety) drill.

    Yes, yes.. we all know it’s for our own safety.

    • carlogesualdo says:

      @missdona: Are you kidding? Talk about dressing casual in the dining room on formal night. Or just mention the word “smoking.” I also hear mention of the topless deck is verboten. There are much better places to talk cruising than cruise critic.

      • dantsea says:

        @carlogesualdo: My favorite part of cruise critic’s dual personality is that those same sanctimonious twats who’ll give you long lectures about acting appropriately and following all the rules will, in the next post, share all their tried and true techniques for smuggling alcohol past security and bag inspection.

  14. BuddyHinton says:

    Where do I sign up?

  15. b.k. says:

    It sounds like they sought out people who were already positively reviewing Royal Caribbean. (Or did I read that wrong?) It reminds me of how, when someone inadvertently mentions on tv/radio the excellence of Brand X, in return they get a year’s supply of Brand X.

    I can’t fault them for wanting to reward/encourage people who are already spreading positive word of mouth about their company. It’s slightly less insulting to the intelligence than just outright having PR people infiltrate message boards and blogs with obvious positive comments.

    But then again, taking a cruise is my idea of my own personal hell, so it doesn’t really matter to me who they pay off to try and improve their image.

  16. I_am_Awesome says:

    I really don’t think they’re doing anything terrible here. They’re taking people who are already fans of their product, and they’re giving them more stuff to talk about. They’re not making anyone lie.

    • marcelebrate says:

      @I_am_Awesome: Well, sure if the intent is just to reward that one person. It becomes a problem when the intent was to create a viral campaign where Reviewer X gives a positive review, gets contacted, thanked and rewarded by Royal. Reviewer X then tells friend Y about this, who becomes positive reviewer Y and then contacted by Royal. And on and on…

      Knowing how the advertising and PR world works, I can pretty much guarantee that was the intent given the number of rewards.

      It’s sketchy. Sadly, this is only going to become more common now that advertising and PR firms are catching on to the power of social commenters and reviewers.

  17. Michael Belisle says:

    Many of them do identify themselves as Champions of the Royal Caribbean cause.

    Reading the thread makes it sound more like a couple of Cruise Critic members are butt-hurt that they haven’t been selected for the program.

  18. savdavid says:

    Many identify themselves? How MANY is many? How about they HAVE to identify themselves, each and every one and time?

  19. HogwartsAlum says:

    It’s one thing when a company rewards positive reviews; it’s another thing entirely when they come after the negative ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s next.

    Just let us have our opinions, marketers.

  20. Wombatish says:

    At least Royal Caribbean will let me take a cruise.

    Because of my age, I cannot cruise on Carnival unless I take a parent with me (been moved out for two years), marry my boyfriend (dating for more than a year, no plans to marry, do like to vacation, though), or dump him and date someone older.

    I honestly prefer Carnival. They are a little cheaper and they leave from the port I want to leave from. I just can’t cruise with them.

  21. Edward T Konefe says:

    Now we know the real story. I glad I sail with Carnival and I’m willing to tell everyone without being rewarded why Carnival is the best cruise line.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the mention of my article that appeared on Tripso and ExpertCruiser on Friday morning. Obviously that’s where this article came from.

    Regards,
    Anita Dunham-Potter
    Cruise Columnist
    Tripso/ExpertCruiser/MSNBC

  23. loueloui says:

    My wife, and I are into cruises. We seem to be in the minority when we say we like Carnival much better than Royal Caribbean. The food is better, the entertainment more organized, and the condition of the ships much better.

    It’s too bad they got caught flaunting all of those pesky environmental laws, and dumping waste directly into the ocean. They even illegally modified their ships to do it.

    This idiotic viral marketing garbage has sealed it for me. No more Royal Caribbean liars.

    • baquwards says:

      @loueloui:
      Actually I have been on Royal Caribbean 4 times and Carnival 2 times, and I by far prefer Carnival, the royal caribbean ships are beautiful but the last experience on the Voyager left me flat, poor food, poor sevice and a hefty price tag.

      On every Royal Caribbean cruise that I have been on, the Cruise director has bashed Carnival at some time while on stage, this has been happening since the ’80s from what I have read and that is one of the reasons that Royal Cariibean loyals think that their cruise line is head and shoulders above the rest, kinda pathetic actually.

  24. PageMagumbalee says:

    They locked that thread on Cruise Critic. It was a good read while it was going on though. Some of those people are a tad bit defensive.

    I am a loyal Royal cruiser and am a bit jealous I didn’t get “hand picked” but I have a low post count there as I mostly lurk. I just want a free cruise! ;)

  25. CRCError1970 says:

    I’ve been on two Carnival cruises and they were both wonderful.

    When I did research on the cruises I wanted to take, I did my best to find out which ship my group would be sailing on and what the ports of call would be like.

    When I read reviews I would be very selective about the ones that *gushed* Carnival love… The middle of the road reviews were very accurate.

    It’s easy to tell when people are dumping sugar into the reveiw.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Not only did Cruise Critic lock the thread but reading through the thread it was reported that the board admin. helped in the recruiting of the members by providing email information. Makes you wonder how independent the board is…

    • dantsea says:

      @RaphaelaTurkey: Yeah, Cruise Critic likes to pretend otherwise, but the fact that they’ll break or bend their own rules if the price is right is probably their worst-kept secret.

  27. Edward T Konefe says:

    Your almost as bad as RCL you don’t even give credit to the writer of the post you got this info from, Anita Dunham-Potter Cruise Columnist Tripso/ExpertCruiser/MSNBC

  28. EricaKane says:

    If you read that threat, you will discover the crazy kapo attitude of those who call themselves Royal Champions. Talk about being loyal slaves to their masters.

  29. YOXIM says:

    Two questions:
    how old are you and are you good looking? Cause you know, I’m probably older haha

  30. YOXIM says:

    btw, that comment was directed at the chick who isn’t old enough to sail by herself. just to clarify. :)

  31. Mr. Gunn says:

    If you want someone to talk about your company, by all means, ask them, but don’t expect quid pro quo. You’re only hurting yourself because only shills will accept quid pro quo, and you want real commentary from real people.

    I know marketers will fail to understand that last sentence.

  32. Jillian Tate says:

    I work in digital marketing. If any of my clients were doing this sort of program, I’d be heading it up. Unfortunately, in my opinion, RC did NOTHING wrong here. Here’s why:

    1. It wasn’t RC employees or their PR agency who were doing the posting. It was influencers (the “Champions”) to whom Royal Caribbean had provided free products for review

    2. RC didn’t try to stifle negative reviews from these people. The quotes taken from the marketing blog don’t say that ONLY positive comments would be allowed from these people. If they had a crappy cruise, and it ruined their fandom, then they would post about it.

    Yes, it would be nice if everyone identified themselves as being biased when they comment or post a review. But it’s only actually WRONG when the writer is from the company in question, or from the PR agency hired by the company in question. This isn’t “Wal-Marting Across America”, or that girl from Nintendo’s agency who released a viral video of herself hula-hooping on a Wii in her underwear. This is just RC assisting people who are already fans by giving them more product to talk about. If the cruises are legitimately crappy, then the reviews will surface to educate people, Champions or not.

    Lack of transparency when you’re promoting a product is a big freaking no-no, for exactly this reason. It’s not established yet whether the posts should start with, “I’m with Royal Caribbean” or “I’m with the agency associated with Royal Caribbean”, but either way, TELL THE TRUTH. People will always find it out anyways – whether it’s Waking Up Wal Mart,

    • dantsea says:

      @Jillian Tate: I must disagree with your first point. The fact remains that these individuals received compensation for positive reviews, and knew that they would continue to receive compensation for additional good reviews. Though RC and/or their agency didn’t pen the reviews is a meaningless nit; they were quite aware that their actions would provide a positive outcome for them/their client. It’s just as wrong.

  33. swingchickie says:

    i posted a thread about this on cruise critic last night, and they pulled it pretty quickly. not surprising since cruise critic accepts advertising dollars from RC… they certainly don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. gah.

  34. opsomath says:

    It’s not just the “Champions.” Many of those posters have a creepy vibe about their language regarding how many cruises they’ve been on…they sound like World of Warcraft players trying to level, or (worse and worse) MLM “associates” working on their “upline.”

    I go on cruises on a semi-regular basis – it’s a good bang for your vacation buck if you do it deliberately on the cheap (ahem, and smuggle/loophole your own alcohol on board) I’ve never noticed the “rewards” programs that everyone is jargonesquely referring to on that board. I doubt they make much difference – save that if it’s not your first time on board, you tend to get invited to the free drinks-ariffic captain’s reception.

  35. Anonymous says:

    If you go to Cruise Critic and post info about this post, it will be deleted within minutes. Boy, they are a touchy bunch, those champions…

  36. TrueBlue63 says:

    CONSUMERIST – The above is a little unclear to me. Are the posters aware that they are being targeted to influence their posts? If its a quid pro quo, then obviously the posts are tainted. But if its simply RCCL identifying fans, that have a following on the net, what has been done wrong.

    There are loyalty programs everywhere, and they are all done to not only produce brand loyalty but also to generate good word of mouth. My wife is a frequent business traveler, and some airlines and hotels give her very special treatment. It influences her decisions, and how she talks about these co’s. RCCL is just taking it to the next level.

  37. erratapage says:

    I just want to point out that there are alternatives to Carnival and Royal Caribbean. I’m a heavy researcher when I travel, and I tend to discount cruise critic’s reviews except where they discuss facts.

    I know what I need and want in a cruise. I will probably pay far more attention to negative reviews than I will positive reviews.

  38. carlogesualdo says:

    There may be alternatives to Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but Carnival and Royal Caribbean own most of those alternatives as well. However, I agree you – I pay more attention to the negative reviews. All positive reviews feel like fluff or press releases. Weeding through a few of the negative reviews is a good exercise, especially if you’re good at determining which ones are real complaints, which ones are sour grapes, and which ones are written by the serial complainers (good for eBay and Amazon seller reviews too).

    In my case, I don’t mind if they’re on the Cruise Critic cheerleading for their favorite cruise line. They just need to identify themselves as such so the rest of us can decide how to take their comments. Just one more reason why I don’t visit Cruise Critic anymore.

  39. Chantillian says:

    I enjoy reading the Consumerist. I highly recommend going to their web site every day.

    ;-)

  40. Anonymous says:

    As the editor of the next largest cruise guide online I am posting this because of concern CruiseMates may get dragged unfairly into this controversy. The headline above says “sites” not “site.”

    CruiseMates does sell advertising to Royal Caribbean, and their competitors, but I have checked with our parent company, Internet Brands, and CruiseMates does not and has never participated in any marketing campaign like this. No site within Internet Brands (they operate over 20 travel sites) has ever done this.

    It is my opinion that if a web site as successful as Cruise Critic is willing to let Royal Caribbean do this – at huge risk to the credibility of their own web site, then I can’t really fault RCL for taking them up on it. I do question Cruise Critic’s decision to allow it.

    And in full disclosure, I am posting this not because I wish to diminish Cruise Critic. I am posting this, in my own name, CruiseMates and Internet Brands, because I value the veracity of our message boards so much. If you can’t have at least a reasonable assurance that what you are reading in our boards is accurate, and not a paid solicitation, then I wouldn’t even ask you to use our message boards.

    http://expertcruiser.com/advice/paid-cheerleaders-does-royal-caribbeans-viral-campaign-cross-the-line/

    There is also a thread on CruiseMates developing about this: http://www.cruisemates.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=606992

  41. Anonymous says:

    Give me a break! If people are upset about these comments, they are going to have to give a lot more thought to everything else they read on the internet. I personally have always cruised on Royal Caribbean and found the service excellent, the ships clean, and the crew wonderful. No one is paying me to say that and I am not on the list referred to above. I agree, the biggest complainers are the ones who haven’t been chosen to get the free trips!

  42. Chris Walters says:

    @dantsea: in Anita’s defense, the link to her article wasn’t there when she left her initial comment.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure what the problem is. From the article it looks like there were people already posting good about company “R”. Company R’s advertising people got the bright idea to contact these people who were already satisfied customers and weren’t afraid to say so (i.e. tell a friend.). They invited them to join a club that gave benefits to its members (grocery store card anyone or how about the preferred customer sale at your favorite department store?) The people like the previews of the coming season and say so. No problem.

    The only problem I see is the reports that say if these customers do say something bad about company “R”, instead of fixing the problem, company R kicks them out of the club. Personally, I prefer to take criticism from someone that likes my service but thinks I can improve things, then from someone that just hates me regardless of any improvements I may make.

    Also, consider a lot of these posters have taken multiple cruises with different providers and can compare and contrast better then someone who has just taken one or two cruises.

    I do see the concern from some people that this relatively new setup may sway people to say things that aren’t true but this is the Internet guys. Never confuse the opinion section with the news. Also how does this invalidate all that they said before this little program came along???

  44. Anonymous says:

    yes, the posts on cruise critic regarding this debacle are being deleted almost as fast as they are put up. Now, a poster here says Crusie Critic actually aided in this by giving email addresses. I find the entire thing outrageous. Getting a free cruise to CONTINUE to post glowing reviews is being paid — these Champions are for all intents and purposes employees — and cruise critic which bans member advertising, is a facilitator of what is covert opinion manipulation, far worse than advertising. I’m a cc member amd I am appalled.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Some facts that need to be clarified. Yes those Royal Champion people have over 10,000 post, but that is for the whole site, not just the Royal Caribbean threads. There is no way RC can know where these posters posted all 10,000 posts.

    Second, the cruises they are talking about here are just 1 or 2 night cruises, where the best of the best is brought out, all drinks are free, best shows are shown, and the other 90% of the guests are travel agents & VIPs. Pretty hard to give a bad review with all that!

    I have been on few of those, not because I am a Royal Champion (too honest for them) but as an invite by travel agents to join them, since it was free to them and one guest.

    Also most of the Royal Champions only cruise on Royal Caribbean because they have many cruises with Royal Caribbean, stay in high class suites, and get very good privileges from RC for being Loyal cruisers. So the level of treatment for them is way better than the occasional cruisers.

    I have been on several cruises with RC and I can assure you, the service, the food and the entertainment quality varies from ship to ship and which level of cabin you cruise in. But to be fair, that is also true for all the other cruise lines except the high cost cruise lines.

    Reading others opinions do help, but you should read several different sites with reviews to get the feel of it. You may have gone on a cruise and found it fantastic, but the person down the hall may report it was the worst cruise they have been on. If you go with a good atitude, chances are, no matter who you cruise on, more times out of 10, you will have a good time!

    Personally I prefer Princess Cruise lines, but I’m sure you will find others who don’t care for them. I have cruised on many other cruise lines, and liked them also, just think I get more for my money on Princess.

    The main thing is choose what you like to do, where you like to go and the level of service you expect, and then decide who to cruise with :)

    As with any cruise forums, there can be honest people giving you their honest opinion and many who are fakes.

    I have found allot of posts were truest on Cruiselinefans.com (only started 3 years ago). But I only know that because I did my research first, but there is much more information on CruiseCritics (they have been going more than 10 years), if you learn to read between the lines on many posts. Again, there are very many honest posters on CruiseCritic and some very mean folks, but neither group are the majority there.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Do you people believe EVERYTHING you read? These articles about the Royal Champions, of which I am a member, are so over the top it’s ridiculous. No one is lying, no one is posting anyway than they formerly did, no one is being “paid”. Royal Caribbean and all cruise lines offer short (1 – 2 night) cruises to travel agents, high rollers, and now RC members, since the cruise business started about 40 years ago. It’s like being comped in Las Vegas for spending a lot of money there. If you were to read the RC members’ posts you would see that we are critical of Royal Caribbean when there’s something wrong, and positive when there’s something right. We just happen to be frequent posters/cruisers. Don’t believe the silly hype you read in these articles. Go find the facts. There is a sticky at the top of the RCCL board that has a very long discussion about this, and several RC members discuss exactly what their so-called membership really is.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Cruise Critic’s management decision to facilitate this ruse with their marketing partner, RCCL, represents a high degree of contempt for the site’s visitors and other cruise line advertisers.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I really can’t say that I’m surprised. They have done far worse than this. In fact, this is quite mild compared to some of their antics. To think, if they actually ran the company properly, treated their guests/crew with respect, and cooperated with authorities to help reduce the amount of crime onboard they wouldn’t need to bribe people to post good reviews.

    Former Guest & Crewmembers; Current Advocate for Cruise Ship Safety and Crew Rights

  49. Anonymous says:

    It is clear that RCCL’s Royal Champions initiative has created an uneven playing field, not only on the Cruise Critic bulletin boards, but, quite possibly, in regard to user reviews in their main content area. What makes this particularly egregious is Cruise Critic’s responsibility for facilitating the program. Cruise Critic provided RCCL, a Cruise Critic Advertiser and Marketing Partner, with the contact information of Cruise Critic “members” to be invited to join the program and receive such inducements as free cruises. In addition, according to a post on Cruise Critic by its Community Manager, both the Community Manager and the Editor of Cruise Critic met with the “Royal Champions” onboard one of the free incentive cruises, thus giving their imprimateur to the program.

    By giving such an advantage to RCCL, Cruise Critic has displayed a callous disregard for its users. This program commenced in 2007. In 2008 the Trip Advisor division of Expedia acquired Cruise Critic. Trip Advisor relies on the integrity of its user generated content. Did Trip Advisor gain knowledge of the Royal Champions program when they did due dillegence prior the closing the acquisition? Does this clandestine program, faciliated and with the full knowledge of Cruise Critic’s management, violate the policies and ethical standards of Trip Advisor? The ramifications of this Cruise Critic – RCCL program go beyond Cruise Critic and effect the very credibility of all Web 2.0 media that rely on user content, one of the largest being Trip Advisor. Let’s hear what Trip Advisor’s management hasto say about this.

  50. Anonymous says:

    I’m not surprised that Royal Caribbean would do this. What I am surprised is that the Cruise Critic Site that purports in their guidelines to be unbiased is so in bed with this regardless of their denials. I have withdrawn my subscription to Cruise Critic in light of their stated no advertising policy within thier threads but allowing viral marketing utilizing current posters. I don’t need to see I stepped in it. I just have to smell it.

  51. Anonymous says:

    IS RCCL Manipulating CruiseCritic.com (owned by Trip Advisor)?

    Jaunted.com

    No surprise here: Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has a viral infection. For once, however, it’s not the Norovirus but that new-fangled byproduct of Web 2.0, the viral marketing infiltration. According to Consumerist, a group of fifty “Royal Champions” was outed by their own creator, the Customer Insight Group, as being a successful project whereby frequent positive cruise commenting on sites such as CruiseCritic was rewarded with free cruises and other perks.
    So what’s the big deal? Well, it seems that the “Royal Champions” weren’t always up front about their status as compensated reviewers, effectively misleading readers of CruiseCritic forums with their positive comments. Add to this the fact that CruiseCritic admins assisted Royal Caribbean in choosing the fifty, with one of the stipulations being quantity of posts, “with many having over 10,000 message board posts on various Royal Caribbean topics.” From here, the hole just gets deeper.
    Now that many RC fans feel slighted at not having made the ranks and most everyone else is disgusted at the covert trade of cruising for happy juicing, the trustworthiness of such forums is under fire.
    Due to CruiseCritic’s ownership by TripAdvisor, which is in turn under the Expedia blanket of travel sites, a viral marketing stunt gone awry could possibly continue to negatively ripple. Does news like this affect your ability to trust good reviews on travel sites, or do you already consider yourself an excellent shill-spotter enough to weed out the solicited from the unsolicited? While this whole ordeal is mired in serious muckety-muck, let’s hope it serves as a lesson for future viral marketers and as an argument for transparency.

  52. Anonymous says:

    While I’m not a legal expert, I wonder if Cruise Critic’s participation in this activity in some way might violate FTC regulations. Cruise Critic’s management, in defense of their behavior, is claiming all it did was to provide their advertiser and marketing partner, RCCL, the contact information for those in to be invited to the Royal Champions Program;. Who are they kidding? Cruise Critic in addition knowingly published reviews and comments from this group and, according to a Cruise Critic bulletin board post (since removed from the site) from their Community Manager, both the Community Manager and Cruise Critic’s Editor met with a large group of Royal Champions aboard one of the free incentive cruises.

    So, at the very least, Cruise Critic demonstrated a total disregard for their users who might have been disled by these shills, while creating an uneven playing field to the detriment of cruise lines other than RCCL. This seems to flaunt stated Trip Advisor policy, so it would be good to hear from them on this matter. And, as a public company, I wonder as well if Expedia, corporate parent of both Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor, may be liable for behavior that could be considered detrimental to their shareholders.

  53. Stuart Falk says:

    Re US law:

    Here’s some of the pertinent language from the FTC for those not familiar with it: “When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product which might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) such connection must be fully disclosed….

    The FTC is planning to strengthen the endorsement guidelines to specifically address blogs and viral marketing, so hopefully these types of bogus endorsement programs will be a thing of the past. [www2.ftc.gov]

  54. murraylundberg says:

    I have what will apparently come as a big surprise to all of you. Freebies in the hope of a positive review are a big part of not only tourism marketing (they’re called Fam trips – for Familiarization), but also publishing and many more industries. There may be reviewers who post positive reviews regardless of what they really believe, but in my case, trips and books (the 2 freebies I get) that I don’t like just don’t get reviewed at all – unless they’re very bad. RCI seems to have chosen their Forum-marketing team from active users who were already RCI fans – I see no foul there. Unfortunately they never noticed my many posts at CC saying that the Radiance is my favorite ship – perhaps the negative reviews of the Vision canceled them out :(