Ryanair is an analogue brand in a digital world and must change

Ryanair - a brand that fails to grasp social mediaControversial low-cost airline Ryanair’s negative attitude to all aspects of digital except ticket sales is a fast track to creating a socially toxic brand on a global scale.

One story in the past couple of weeks has leapt out as a case study for brands in how not to act in social media. It tells of a brand sticking its fingers in its ears and refusing to be told or to listen.

No surprise that the brand in question is everybody’s favourite budget airline, Ryanair.

A little over three weeks ago it became the subject of a Facebook storm and, for once, that isn’t hyperbole. It began after a woman who had been charged EUR300 by Ryanair for printing her six boarding passes at the airport posted a comment on Facebook about it. Admittedly the airline warns passengers about the charges, but they are widely viewed as excessive, money-making fees.

Suzy McLeod’s comment read: ‘When flying from Alicante to Bristol yesterday, I had previously checked in online but because I hadn’t printed out the boarding passes, Ryanair charged me EUR60 per person!!! Meaning I had to pay EUR300 for them to print out a piece of paper! Please “like” if you think that’s unfair :-(‘

When Ryanair chief executive did finally respond earlier his week he called his Facebook critic “an idiot”. Charming.

Viral complaint

She probably expected a few hundred comments at most, but this single social-media seed grew into something mighty. McLeod’s little post on a fake Ryanair page attracted not just a few hundred or thousand likes, but hundreds of thousands. It has gone on to rack up more than 580,000 likes. It appeared to have become a lens that brought into sharp focus what so many feel about Ryanair. In addition to the ‘likes’ there were about 20,000 comments, most supporting her.

Ryanair’s response? A statement to the press reminding passengers of its ‘clearly outlined’ ‘terms and conditions’.

No message to say it was looking at the issue and no indication it was listening, as Ryanair doesn’t do Facebook or Twitter. It doesn’t do social – and, some would say, it doesn’t do customer service.

This is the airline that famously said three years ago that it was ‘Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again’.

The airline remains true to its word. Why take the easy win when you can do it the hard way? Clearly this is a strategy that is paying off in helping to make Ryanair a socially toxic brand.

Drop in profits

Consider this. In July it was revealed that, while rival easyJet revised its projections upward, Ryanair posted a 29% drop in profits. This on the back of a ‘six-fold increase in marketing spend per passenger’. Profits down, marketing up. Something is not working.

What many of the comments on McLeod’s post have in common is that they are negative. That’s thousands of comments amplified by the social web.

Of course, people have complained about Ryanair for years, and for years it could get away with ignoring such critics. Social media has changed that.

Ryanair is trying to be an analogue brand in a digital world. The web might be the way it chooses to sell tickets, but it seeks to ignore all other aspects of digital and social media – and it is failing. There is not a brand out there that can continue to act like this.

When hundreds of thousands or people are talking about you, the smart thing is to listen and engage.

Nonetheless, as social-media monitoring firm Brandwatch points out, it could be argued that this online incident won’t damage Ryanair’s social reputation; it is already poor.

  • https://twitter.com/edweatherall Ed Weatherall

    Hi Gordon,

    I understand your point but don’t understand why Ryanair needs to become a digital brand.

    They offer a physical product, which personally I think is amazing value for money, aslong as you behave as they ask you to.

    What is the damage of these Facebook likes, how many of these people vowed never to fly Ryanair again? Will they be able to resist when the prices show up next to BA on a comparison site?

    I know Suzy paid an extortionate amount for printing the boarding passes but how much more would her flight tickets have been with another carrier? Ryanair do not want to provide the service of printing boarding passes, so to deter passengers they use big charges.

    Have a look at the Ryanair charter: http://www.ryanair.com/index.php/en/about/passenger-charter

    This is what their performance should be judged on, not a comparison with digital brands.

    I fly Ryanair when I have only hand luggage and the children are not along for the ride, if they are, I stump up the cash for a service designed for passengers with luggage and kids.

  • Chris Worrell

    Have to agree. What would the business benefit be of Ryanair becoming a ‘digital’ brand. Net profit for the year to March was 503m euros ($643m; £406m), up 25% on a year earlier. Revenue rose by 19% to 4.3bn euros. You need to illustrate how being a social / digital brand would change this. And also, you have jumped to the conclusion that all of the comments were negative about Ryanair. Actually a large tranche of them defended the brand and criticized the customer!

  • http://rebeccahesilrige.blogspot.co.uk/ Becky Hesilrige

    Social media is very much a double edged sword. Many brands are using social media fantastically to connect with their customers and to improve their branding.

    Other brands however have to consider what feedback they are likely to receive via social media. Ryanair have been luck to see a taster of how their social media activity could end up – potentially very badly! I’d predict that they would be inundated with complaints no matter how hard they try to improve customer relations online.

    For some brands it is important to address the underlying issue of customer dissatisfaction before opening themselves up to social media.

    That being said, social media can really increase the trust that the public have in a brand, therefore the public will be wary of any brands unwilling to open themselves up to social media.

    If Ryanair were my social/pr client (thank god they’re not) I would strongly suggest they improve from the bottom up before even thinking of touching social!

  • WS

    I’m inclined to agree with Ed. If anything, ‘horror stories’ like this reinforce Ryanair’s reputation as a no-frills, low cost airline who’ll give you the cheapest price so long as don’t break any of their very well known rules. I doubt this episode will translate into declining sales.

    Also worth noting, that Ryanair’s drop in profits was as a result of an increase fuel prices – an issue which sometimes only affects one airline and not them all depending on how they buy their fuel.

  • Pete M

    Also have to disagree with this.

    Ryanair may have seen a recent dip in profits but they are also now the second biggest airline in Europe – a simply meteoric rise over the past few years. And all this despite a long-standing indifferent attitude towards customer care and an abject refusal to ‘engage’. How can this be?

    Ryanair’s USP is it’s honesty of intention – people know that all airlines are ultimately out to scam them (BA, Virgin and others have all been involved in price fixing and similar dubious practices). Ryanair is refreshing because essentially it admits it. Ryanair’s customers know that they will get a cheap flight if they play the game. If they don’t , they will get shafted. It’s not about the airline being their best mate, or ‘joining the conversation’.

    In essence what Ryanair have done is to turn air travel into a commodity. People don’t love commodity suppliers; they just look for the cheapest price.

    As long as that remains the case then social media is indeed irrelevant to the brand. It is, they themselves put it: ‘a waste of time and money’.

  • James murphy

    The most profitable airline in the world and has been one of the top 3 for the past 10 yrs, in an industry with more failures and a general reputation for rip offs, high fees and poor customer service. Not sure how becoming a digital brand willl makr them any better than those air,ines who do engage with customers.
    Look at thr flipside: klm offers 24hr service via twitter. Great. BUT, their tickets are more expensive, cant fly direct- have to fly via schiphol, high price business class but low quality food and amenties.
    I thinkni prefer the analogue world.nat least they’re honest about what they offer

  • http://about.me/andrewgirdwood Andrew Girdwood

    It’s a complex situation but it’s worth noting that in many cases the price difference between a “no frills” airline and many of the others is pretty small.

    The risk Ryanair faces is that may be seen to make their money from “gotcha” catches. In fact, they may actually make their money from gotchas.

    As the internet helps educate people to print their passes out in advance then Ryanair will make less money from less gotchas.

    The education process, that in some cases the difference in price isn’t there (before or after the gotcha charges), is the longer term risk.

  • Clive Draper

    This article is wrong. Ryanair has the clearest marketing message of any airline: WE ARE THE CHEAPEST. As long as it sticks to this (and delivers the lowest prices), people will fly with them. Airlines are like the British railway system or the Tube: you do not have a choice (generally). i.e. if you want to get to [airport x] at [time y] then you hardly have loads of options! Ryanair would be mad to start engaging – this way it would lose its ‘USP’ (i.e. we have one business focus: to be the cheapest) and become like all the other (more expensive – and generally less reliabale) airlines.

  • http://www.thirdcity.co.uk Mark Lowe

    Nice title – reminds me of one of Bartlett’s lines about his opponent in the West Wing!

    It’s clear from Ryanair’s incredible profits that they play by different commercial rules from other brands and it’s instructive to think about why that is.

    The bottom line is that they do not operate within a normal, functioning market.

    Of course, they did a huge amount to bring competition to the aviation sector when they first launched, but they are now using market dominance to erode the customer experience.

    Put simply, they don’t care about 500K people hating them because, they don’t have to.

    Something needs to change and I think Easyjet may have begun to recognise this and are changing their strategy. I wrote a bit more on this here if you’re interested:


  • http://www.onourbikes.com Jon Stow

    People fly Ryanair because it is very cheap if you play their game by their rules. If you don’t then it costs a lot more to fly. It is a business model I don’t like but everyone goes in with their eyes open, or they should.

    It’s like parking on a meter five minutes over and getting a ticket. You know the rules. They may be petty, but you have to play the game to get the best deal otherwise you make a larger contribution to company profits. Sorry.

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