Guest post: Public relations and new media by Vivian Dennis

Everyone has weighed in on the Costa Concordia disaster since the cruise ship ran aground Jan. 13 off Giglio, Italy. The partially submerged ship is a constant reminder that the accident has claimed 17 lives, with 15 missing and presumed dead.

Earlier this week, National Geographic presented a documentary with passenger, crew, and emergency worker interviews and video taken aboard after the ship struck a reef. Lost in the stories and sound bites is the presence of the ship's operator Costa Cruises and its parent company Carnival Corp.

There has been much criticism of the cruise lines' PR efforts and the low-profile of Carnival CEO Micky Arison to, as some say, distance Carnival from the disaster. Arison has issued statements on Twitter.

Twitter has granted the media and the public visibility into the personal and professional lives of many executives, athletes and celebrities,” Aaron Kwittken, chief executive of Kwittken & Co. Worldwide, wrote in Forbes. “However, the platform is no surrogate for devoting personal time and attention to address questions that the victims’ families deserve answers to.”

Kwittken is right. Even in the internet era, social media networks are among the tools – not the only tool – to be used in handling such a crisis. Not everyone is plugged in and the personal touch, even if symbolic, can go a long way. It is bad enough to have Costa Concordia mentioned in the same breath as the Titanic, which sank 100 years ago, or as a new standard of failure. But now Carnival's crisis communications brings to mind BP's public relations disaster in the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill.

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