The archaic approach of Ryanair to social media

Late last month, it was announced that Robin Kiely had been appointed to what some have referred to as “the worst job in PR” – head of comms at Ryanair.  This week, Kiely made his first significant strategic announcement, which certainly raised a few eyebrows. He revealed that his comms strategy was to focus more on what he referred to as “traditional” media, and turn Ryanair’s back on social media.

One of the main reasons cited behind this decision was his claim that Facebook is a ‘two-way tool’ and maintaining a dedicated account would probably mean ‘hiring two more people just to sit on Facebook all day’. 

Some days more than others as let’s not forget Ryanair chief executive called a Facebook critic “an idiot” after she racked up 560,000 likes, for her Facebook post about how it was to be charged €300 by the airline for printing six boarding passes.

On one hand, Kiely is right. Facebook has undoubtedly become more dialogue-based and the evidence of that is clear – most of the world’s largest brands use the social network. Coca-Cola, for example, has almost 60 million likes and maintains a daily dialogue with its highly engaged audience.

However, claiming that he would have to hire two people to maintain Facebook is a highly archaic view and isn’t a valid reason for eschewing social. Let me explain.

I get it that Ryanair, maybe more than any brand out there, certainly has had a tendency to frustrate its customers and, when they are annoyed with the airline, they are not shy in telling people about it. And fellow aggrieved customers are not afraid to support them. Let’s not forget the woman that got 350,000 likes on Facebook when she vented her anger about a boarding pass reissue situation?

Also, you have to consider how today’s consumer is inherently social now. They expect to be able to converse with brands over social. A day very rarely goes by where I don’t see one of the people I follow on Twitter raising an issue directly with a brand, whether complaining or commending. So the natural conclusion would be that for Ryanair in particular, this would be a very expenisve, time-consuming exercise.

However, even taking these two points into account, it’s a conclusion that would maybe have resonated a few years ago, (when social was still in its infancy), but is wide of the mark today. With the development of social media management tools, response and integration of interactions into traditional workflows are no longer a problem. There are now tools that capture incoming Facebook posts, communicate an appropriate response to the consumer, integrate the issue into the business workflow – and in essence, control the whole process. Put simply, you don’t have to recruit more staff to deal with more correspondence any more.

While it has revolutionised air travel, thanks to its low fares, Ryanair is surely aware that it does attract more complaints that other airlines. The fact that social gives the platform to register these complaints and Mr Kiely is shutting this channel down does have an air of dodging bullets, especially when he could easily implement practices that enable a brand to deal with an influx of correspondence at any given time.

Whereas a few years ago, My Kiely might have had a point, in today’s social age, his argument doesn’t really stand up and the move risks infuriating consumers who naturally expect to converse with brands via social media.

Simon Pitman is Director at Integritie