Yes, it seems that, whatever transport-based analogy one cares to make, blunder-prone Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary can turn anything into a bad joke. While other businesses are harnessing the power of social media to promote their brand and engage more with their customer base, O’Leary seems to many to be demolishing both single-handedly.
So it was last week when he took to the Twittersphere to answer questions from the public under the hashtag #GrillMOL. The proverbial excrement hit the fan at the very first tap of the keyboard.
In reply to a question from a woman, he simply tweeted back, “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL”.
His reply was retweeted over and over again and, as one would expect, this led to a barrage of outrage from the public. One reply read: “@Ryanair how is it appropriate for an airline CEO to be a sexist pig?” Another read: “People who fly Ryanair: do you also think this is an acceptable thing to tweet at a woman?”
I don’t know whose idea it was to let O’Leary loose (and unmoderated) on Twitter. Doubtless all the senior management with a modicum of sense, diplomacy or social awareness were all too busy to worry about such things. But one does wonder why he was indeed let loose when he clearly didn’t really understand what Twitter is, how to use it, or how to behave.
In response to the growing outrage, the ill-prepared O’Leary eventually responded:
“Just found out what hashtags are. Learning on da job! Always compliment ladies pics”.
Toe curling? Yes. Did it get better? No.
For a start, the Twitter chat got underway some 50 minutes early due to a scheduling error (though in fairness, bad timekeeping is apparently one of the lesser of Ryanair’s sins). The main problem was that O’Leary seemed to view the whole exercise more as a bit of a laugh as opposed to a good opportunity to engage with customers and answer their very real concerns. Indeed, some serious issues were completely ignored. For instance:
“Why no response for a refund request (sent reg. post) in over a month from seriously ill girl with special needs?”
“Due to fly to Riga on Saturday but can’t go as my mum in law is losing her cancer battle. 388 quid to re-book seems unfair.”
Instead, he responded more frequently to the light-hearted tweets – keen to show his fun-loving “loveable” side, no doubt. Stephen Eamonn, a member of Ryanair staff tweeted:
“So my boss is on Twitter right now,” to which O’Leary responded immediately, “Get back to work you slacker or you’re fired !!!”
Granted, Twitter is not the place to resolve complex issues, but that’s not the point. He could at least have apologised for the upset or pointed them in the right direction.
Further classic tweets of the day read:
@Ryanair Have you ever considered getting rid of the cargo hold and fitting seats down there? Seems an awful waste of space. #GrillMOL
O’Leary replied: “Not seats but beds. Mile high club anyone? #GrillMOL”
Hm, classy. It may have been tongue in cheek, but he also completely ignored quite a sensible question about Ryanair’s future plans in the event of a rerun: “Will you be looking for a new social media manager tomorrow?” Ironically, there followed a request for feedback on the possibility of running future Twitter chats.
If nothing else, one thing is clear: Richard Branson he ain’t. And he could certainly take a lesson or two from the golden-haired god of airlines and entrepreneurship. I can’t see O’Leary picking up the phone to speak personally to a passenger who complained about airline food – and he certainly wouldn’t offer them a post on the food committee.
Ashley is a copywriter, editor and blogger
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