Ryanair’s new comms chief sticks two fingers up at social media

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Most companies have now concluded that, like it or not, social media is here to stay and must be harnessed for commercial advantage. But not Ryanair. After a couple of bruising years at the hands of disgruntled customers venting their spleen on Facebook and Twitter, Ryanair’s new head of comms Robin Kiely has decided not to engage in social media at all.

Robin Kiely has just taken on the 'worst job in PR' according to his employer

Here is an example of Ryanair’s handling of a customer complaint on Facebook last year. Furious about being charged €300 to print five boarding passes on a flight from Alicante to Bristol, Suzy McLeod posted the following on Ryanair’s Facebook page: “I had previously checked in online 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.” The posting had over 20,000 responses and 500,000 likes.

Suzy sent a request to Ryanair for a refund of this extra charge. Ryanair’s Chief Executive, Michael O’Leary is reported to have responded, “She wrote to me last week asking for compensation and a gesture of goodwill. To which we have replied, politely but firmly, thank you Mrs. McLeod but it was your f**k-up.”

Having not studied Ryanair’s finances in detail, it would be difficult to attribute their 29% fall in profits last summer entirely to their appalling customer service. Meanwhile, EasyJet reported better than expected results last summer based on their new strategy of enhancing customer service. EasyJet has focused on responding to their customer’s comments and questions online; Ryanair appears to be ignoring theirs.

A normal comms response to this fiasco might be to focus marketing spend on social media. But Ryanair has decided to focus on traditional media instead. New comms chief Kiely said that while other airlines had ‘tapped into social media’ platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the sites ‘would not be helpful’ to Ryanair’s comms strategy. Noting the existence of more than one fake Ryanair account on Facebook and Twitter, which have significant followings, Kiely said: ‘A Facebook account would not be helpful to us, as we would have so many people looking for a response.’

He called the social network a ‘two-way tool’ and said maintaining a dedicated account would probably mean ‘hiring two more people just to sit on Facebook all day’. He added that ‘if customers want to get in touch, the methods are there,’ referring to the brand’s customer care line.

Kiely’s strategy is to ‘open (Ryanair) up to the media’ through a dedicated section on ryanair.com to give journalists better access to the airline and to ‘prevent false claims’ from spreading in the press.

It all sounds rather foolhardy. However, Ryanair’s has built its reputation on iconoclastic methods of doing business. And the FT reported on 28th January that Ryanair has increased its profits outlook from last year after strong demand for flights in the run-up to Christmas. Rather amusingly (we think), chief exec Michael O’Leary said average fares jumped 8 percent in the quarter, thanks to ‘improved customer service, record punctuality and the successful rollout of our reserved seating system.’

Good luck to Kiely for stepping up to what his own employer refers to as ‘the worst job in PR’.