Before the days of social media, cruise lines relied heavily on TV, radio and print advertising to help fill their cabins. Nowadays, they are also turning to social media to reach potential consumers.Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are just a few of the sites that the cruise industry utilizes in media campaigns, but the list is evolving as the social media market changes and grows. Social media affords businesses the opportunity to connect directly with consumers and creates a level of involvement that engages them on a personal level.

Through social media, cruise lines are able to reach a segment of the population that has definite financial potential. Consider that about 18 percent of Americans have taken a cruise, and of that percentage, over half of them are 45 years of age or older. Conversely, over 65 percent of those who participate in social media sites are under 45 years of age.

Although a number of factors contribute to why the majority of cruise passengers are older than 45 years, it is evident that “traditional” marketing methods are not as effective with a younger demographic as they could be. Only time will tell if social media will largely affect the age range of passengers, but these figures show that at least social sites are distributing information to a more youthful audience.

There are a numerous social media sites on the Internet, but a few stand out as the best way to reach potential consumers. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and Pinterest each offer ways for cruise lines to directly engage users. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have methods to create “updates.” These updates are most effective when they are not merely a running dialogue of specials or available bookings.

They should also include tidbits about great locations and things to actively involve consumers like contests or polls. While Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have ways to add pictures and videos, YouTube and Pinterest attract users based on the visual alone. A video of passengers enjoying on-board entertainment posted to YouTube or beautiful vistas posted to Pinterest can be viewed and shared or even linked back to most social media sites.

Utilizing social media is about more than just generating interest in booking a Fred Olsen cruise. It can encompass the opportunity to provide customer service, post travel advice and more. A study commissioned by Cruise Lines International Association and Amadeus North America helped to determine how various cruise specialists are using social media. The study found that social media was being utilized to:

• engage with customers
• post offers or discounts
• promote new products and/or services
• provide travel advice
• allow customers to share experiences
• provide customer service

Mobile media is a rapidly expanding area of the social media phenomenon. Most social media sites have applications that are available on the iPhone and Android markets. Through these applications, it is literally possible to reach consumers at all hours of the day with updates that stream directly to their phones and other electronic devices. In addition, many cruise lines have their own applications that bypass social media applications and link directly to the consumer.

The cruise industry has an edge in the social media forum because it is so customer oriented. Not only is social marketing done by the cruise line, it is done by the people who are on a cruise as they update their own Facebook pages, add Tweets and pin to Pinterest.

Stephanie Leavitt of Carnival Cruise Lines summed it up best when she stated, “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.”

This statement applies to any social media site, not just Facebook. The cruise industry has an incredible opportunity to interact directly with the consumer and market in a way that is very focused and user-driven, but adaptability will be the key as the cruise industry rides the social media wave to financial success.

This post was contributed by Eve Pearce. Eve writes social media and marketing articles ranging from content marketing, social outreach and SEO marketing to more traditional e-mail and pay per click ads. The right balance needs to be struck for every campaign, but now more than ever social is where the biggest opportunity lies.