Airlines suffer in online brand reputation index. Does it matter?

Is it impossible for some kinds of companies to have a good online reputation?

I’m minded to ask after reading about some new research into online reputation – specifically looking at how certain UK brands were written about in online news sites and online social media sites.

Twitter: online reputation damage?

The index, which is put together by the PR agency Kaizo, found that all the airlines saw their scores suffer, primarily because, according to the release “customer service issues led to consumers venting their frustrations online”.

Clearly there are times when such venting is deserved (Kaizo cites the example of Ryanair charging a young violinist £190 to take her violin on board), but other complaints – flight delays and cancellations – are seldom down to just the airline involved.

Mobile networks also performed badly. Again, it strikes me as being stacked against the brands. No one tweets to say that they’ve received and made several calls over the course of a day without any problems. But cut an iPhone owner off from their 3G service for 10 minutes? Suddenly you’re the worst company ever! And it doesn’t matter to the customer if it’s a handset problem or because they’re stuck behind a huge concrete wall – it’s the mobile operator that gets criticised in a tweet.

Supermarkets, by contrast, have done well in the index. Supermarkets, of course, have far more control over their environment and the capacity to delight us with hundreds of brands we really like and lots of deals that make us happy.

All of which makes me wonder how concerned brands should be about what people say on Twitter and how much impact it has.

Ryanair is famously awful – people keep flying with them even after terrible experiences (except me). We don’t have an endless choice of airlines to fly with or mobile phone companies to give our custom. There aren’t that many pay TV companies. So when we read someone moaning about how their mum had to sit in the middle of the middle of the back row of a flight or that their new SIM card hasn’t arrived, we might feel sympathy, but do we genuinely think: “That company is terrible?”

  •!/chilli_inthedam Milly Newman

    When consumers don’t have the luxury of choice, then online ranting is only useful as a method of releasing anger and the slim hope that the company in question might take some notice, get in touch, apologise, compensate and change its ways.

    In the case of Ryanair, it continues to astonish me that they’re in business. There is almost always an alternative airline and for that reason I also manage to maintain a boycott. Every time I read someone’s complaint (as per the above) it reminds why I don’t use them, so yes, the ranting can matter. The case of Ryanair also goes to show that people will continually endure poor service in the quest for lower costs. So if your USP is being cheap – perhaps you don’t have to care.

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  • Kate Spiers / Wisdom London


    A good and timely question. Social media has in some cases turned into a big stick that consumers can beat brands with – and its becoming fairly normal for people to air their grievances when truly disappointed and annoyed.

    As to whether brands should worry too much – well, I generally advise that it’s better to have it out in the open so that brands can see what’s being said, respond and rectify where appropriate, understand sentiment towards their brand and – crucially – learn from it through analysis, review and re-thinking certain ways of doing business where necessary. You can’t control what’s being said, but you can certainly correct factual errors, show humility and and a desire to fix mistakes. That cannot be bad for business.

    In some cases, no response is the best policy. No brand can be everything to everyone. Few can deliver perfectly all of the time. So where it’s a subjective matter of opinion – well, that’s OK too. each to their own. That’s when the focus for brands should then shift to the advocates and ambassadors for the brand, and never take them for granted.

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