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Social Networking Expert Interview of Stephanie Leavitt

Stephanie Leavitt is the Social Networking Strategist at Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami, Florida (www.carnival.com). Her background includes experience in youth marketing, public relations and social media.

How did you get started? It goes back to an internship with Gollin Harris, which was about seven years ago. That internship was for anti-tobacco work around youth activism. The project focused on viral and online social marketing efforts, but was before social networking as a media trend came about.

? Did you see social networking on the horizon? Yes, as I went to my next internship at Fleishman Hillard in NY the department focused on youth marketing. At that time we were going and finding online communities and posting on message boards for fans of certain bands playing for such events as Vans Warped Tour. Our client was Cingular who was focusing on the youth market. I started to see a growth in the number of people who were on message boards. Although most were considered "youth", the age span of the participants ranged from children to grandparents. This was also around the time that blogs first emerged.

What happened next in your evolution around social networks? I then had my senior class in college, Florida International University, got involved in the IAA’s InterAd student competition contest with our client being Yahoo! who wanted to focus on the youth consumer. We did a lot of research; spoke with a lot of teenagers and found they really wanted a lot of free stuff. Yahoo wanted more users for a variety of their products so we put together an integrated campaign to encourage users to involve their friends in actually using more Yahoo services. Our team ended up winning first place in the U.S. and Canada and second place in the global contest. We didn’t realize it then, but the underlying theme of our campaign was social networking.

So what happened next? I graduated and got a job in public relations and marketing, but the more and more experience I got the more I noticed the big change to online media. People started believing in it more—especially the youth (many of whom were transitioning into the entry level workforce). They see this form of marketing as more authentic than traditional advertising and marketing.

I was, however, continuing to do traditional pr and so I decided to blog on my own. I launched my own blog on Generation Y’s influence on marketing and pr and I also joined the Public Relations Society of America where I served as the vice chair for the New Professionals Group. There I spearheaded the launch of the new pros blog. I continued to see the decline of traditional media and decided that I would look for a job in social media, which was the on the rise.

When did you end up at Carnival? It was June of 2007 that I was hired by Carnival. At that time they had a social media site that had launched in 2006, www.carnivalconnections.com, which focuses on building community for those interested in cruises. Carnival also had a few other social media projects in development, including a popular travel blog.

What is special about the site? For a corporate website we are pretty open. People are free to say what they want so there are negative as well as positive comments. This is rare as many organizations are hesitant to have these types of comments on their sites.

We have a very popular blog written by our senior cruise director, John Heald, (www.johnhealdsblog.com) that launched in March 2007 and has resulted in a "Bloggers Cruise." Over 800 attended that cruise. Another example is Carnival Connections. There was a group of users who gave themselves the name "Coconut Monkey Head Group" based on a popular cruise drink they had when sailing. These people met on the site (have never met face-to-face) and are now planning to take a group cruise together. These are just two examples of social media helping grow bottom line sales.

What are you passionate about in the future in business and then in your personal life? In business, it would be creating authentic two-way communication with our guests. In my personal life it would be travel and spending time with my family, friends and my dog, Cocoa, a mini-dachshund.

Bonus Question: How do you like using LinkedIn? I like it and am not as involved as I would like to be, but I plan to use the question and answer tools more in the future.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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