Not All Brands Need Social Media – Ryanair Case Study

Published: 28th August 2012 Written by:


This week has been quite slow for me, mainly because I am trying to get back on track from a 2 week holiday break. Probably because of this a holiday related story has caught my attention this week involving once again a Ryanair scandal. With a headline worthy of the Daily Mail: “woman gets charged £300 by Ryanair for printing six boarding passes” the story explains how after being charged £60 for each boarding pass, Suzy McLeod decides to take the battle on to the social media arena.

In her frustration and probably quite innocently McLeod asked Facebook users to “like” her comment if they thought it was unfair, probably seeking sympathy from friends and family.

The post said something like:

“When flying from Alicante to Bristol yesterday, I had previously checked in on-line but because I hadn’t printed out the Boarding Passes, Ryanair charged me £60 per person!!! Meaning I had to pay £300 for them to print out a piece of paper! Please ‘like’ if you think that’s unfair… : – (“

Aha!!!!“ I thought to myself…”this is the story that tells me how the power of social media has taught the evil Ryanair a lesson!!!“… social media to the rescue!

Result? – 387,000 likes and 19,475 comments… that’s almost 400,000 people hating the brand online in a very short period… surely this is the end Ryanairs reputation online… “yessss! justice has been made! I warned them not to charge me for that extra kg!”

Disappointingly it seems that Ryanair has been taught no lesson, in fact it might teach many of us in the online marketing world a thing or two, mainly that not all brands need social media in fact some don’t want it. As I was typing this last sentence my fingers seem to refuse the instructions from my brain. Most social media evangelist will argue that social media is a must for any brands worthy of its name in the 21st century. We hear over and over how social media helps brands engage with existing and new customers and how the best capitalise on clever viral campaigns. From an SEO perspective there is no doubt that there is a growing dependency on social media, so what did I mean with this last statement? Here we have Ryanair one of the most successful low cost airlines in Europe, reporting a 25% increase in full year profits and a 19% increase in revenues, with traffic growing 5% from 72 million to over 76 million passengers in the past year. Yet I am suggesting they don’t need social or want social media? Sounds like a contradiction…

Ryanair is one of those brands that has constant negative bad PR, yet manages to brush it away time after time, and is successful for one and one reason only- its low cost air fares. The interesting thing is that if you look at the social media stats, the air travel industry has one of the highest engagement rates in social media. A lot of brands engage with their customers on this medium which would make you think a brand in this industry would suffer deeply from an assault similar to the one recently experience by Ryanair.

If you have a look at some of the more prominent brands in the airline industry engaging on social media, the numbers of followers, fans and engagement are quite impressive. The two airlines that seem to have a stronger presence on Twitter and Facebook are KLM and Southwest Airlines with 7 digit numbers. These brands don’t only capture the social media following but engages with their customers on this medium, in the case of KML with an impressive 94.14% response rate and a 27 minute response time.

Most of these airlines specialise in long-haul flights were customer service, quality and reliability of the service are as important as price. Ryanair is competing on price fiercely and consequently suffers in the rest of the client servicing areas creating a big PR nightmare that has to be managed with extreme caution. Being very aware of this, Ryanair has opted to have a miniscule presence on social media platforms to be able to control and minimise the effects of bad PR on these platforms.

Ryanair uses the twitter mainly to push its standard company news and does no engagement. If you have a look at its Facebook page you will see how the brand tries a funny approach that already shows a defensive stand “Ryanair is an airline with a great sense of humour! If you have none it’s your own problem, not ours;)”. In addition to this most of the comments on the page are of unhappy customers explaining their bad experiences and the likes are related to these negative comments. In addition the management of these comments are as confrontational as the rest of its policies.

So to conclude this blog brands that have notorious bad customer service or that tend to suffer often from PR scandals should think twice about Social Media. Social Media is a great channel to engage with customers, but if most of them only have bad things to say about you, don’t give them more means to engage with you unless you are willing to engage back in a positive manner.

In my opinion social media has been the buzz word in online marketing for quite some time now, to the point of obsession. Don’t get me wrong, social media is important but brands have to have a clear plan of how to engage and how to benefit from these strategies before wasting budget and time.

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