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Year in Review: Lessons from Ryanair’s Social Marketing Miss

Conflicting social messages

The whirlwind of conflicting social media activity in 2012 buffeted marketers from one extreme to the next, leaving us all reeling with differing opinions from credible sources. On the one hand, The McKinsey Global Institute stated that 1/3rd of all purchases are subject to social influence and Gartner predicted that half of all web sales will come from social and mobile by 2015. On the other hand, Forrester painted a bleak picture that only 1% of all purchases are influenced by social, while IBM claimed that social media only influenced .68% of brand referral traffic on the highly anticipated Black Friday.

To make sense of these predictions, we’ve been analyzing social marketing success and failure stories to see what was impactful, what needs improvement, and what to plan for in 2013. Read on for the first of two key lessons from social marketing misses in 2012, and download our white paper Top Social Engagement Lessons from JetBlue, Zappos,, and Kirkland’s for in depth reviews and takeaways from 4 of your favorite brands. 

Failure to manage customer service: Ryanair

If JetBlue represents the perfect example of turning potential PR disasters into positive experiences using social customer relations, Ryanair completely missed the memo.

Image 1: Ryanair has never placed a priority on customer comfort or serviceImage

Unlike JetBlue’s rapid and responsible social media updates when one of their pilots had an inflight mental breakdown – which subsequently earned them the Simpliflying Heroes award – Ryanair handled their potential crisis a little differently. 

When customer Suzy McLeod turned to Facebook in August to complain about a 200+ Euro charge to print her family’s boarding passes, her complaint quickly earned massive social support, with 350,000 ‘Likes’ and over 18,000 comments. Instead of an immediate apology, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary took another route, publicly stating “We think Mrs. McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid.” Unsurprisingly, the comment didn’t go over well with their customers; the company is still dealing with negative customer sentiment on social even now, as SocialSentiment reports a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative comments.

Image 2: A snapshot of Ryanair’s Facebook page highlights their poor social customer serviceImage

The lesson: The customer is (still) always right

In this social media-centric day and age, the customer is always right. Especially when that customer has support from over 500,000 ‘Likes’, compared with Ryanair’s total Facebook presence of 30,000 fans (many of whom sided with Suzy anyway). At the time of his comment, O’Leary went up against over 350,000 angry fans – 11x his company’s fan base. 

Ryanair is a budget airline that puts little importance on customer service; however, customers continue to place more importance on customer service. The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer found that 55% of survey participants walked away from a sale this past year as a result of poor customer service. With consumers continuing to gain power and influence over each other, I hope Ryanair recognizes this paradigm shift and alters their strategy before it’s too late.

Social marketing: The time is now

Social isn’t going anywhere. Companies who have figured out how to benefit from social, both on the platforms themselves and on the company websites – companies like Zappos and – will lead the pack in 2013 and beyond. As the memories of 2012 fade, take the time to rethink your company’s social plan: where can you improve? How can you better integrate social into various aspects of your business? What goals can social help you achieve?

Check in later this week for American Apparel’s social marketing miss, and download our white paper, Top Social Engagement Lessons from JetBlue, Zappos,, and Kirkland’s, for in depth analysis of top performing social marketers.

Do you have any particularly worthy success or failure stories from 2012? Feel free to share them in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter.

Join The Conversation

  • Jan 11 Posted 4 years ago Nick Paul

    I am a firm believer that the customer is not always right. While I do believe that Ryanair were despicable in their handling of the situation, there are (other) incidences where the customer is wrong. I do not think one always needs to sympathise with a customer, even on social, especially if the customer is being clearly unreasonable and uncooperative. Having many years of customer service and social media management experience, I can honestly say that when dealing with unreasonable customers, if you've always maintained integrity on social channels before, your regular, reasonable customers actually come to your rescue addressing the unreasonable customer, almost on your behalf. Granted, one needs to have built an impeccable rapport with customers in your company across all channels to do this - I suppose this highlights the importance of jacking up your entire customer experience before you can be good at social.

  • JeromePineau1's picture
    Jan 9 Posted 4 years ago JeromePineau1

    You are so right it's not even funny. People bitch about this stuff but keep filling the coffers of these parasite companies. One gets what one pays for. There's masochism in the air (no pun intended <g>).

  • Jan 9 Posted 4 years ago _richardhughes

    I think it is wrong to see the Ryanair incident as a "social marketing miss". O'Leary has built Ryanair as a company that prides itself on treating customers badly, knowing that they will get away with it by being cheaper than the alternative. His reply to this incident is entirely consistent with that approach to customers, so can't really be perceived as a "miss". 

    If customers really object to such behaviour, then they should simply stop flying Ryanair. Yet they don't, and Ryanair is one of the most profitable airlines. All of which suggests that O'Leary is right... and that's a truly depressing thought.

    The lesson for the customer is that if you don't want to be treated with contempt, don't use a company that has so consistently declared its intent to behave in that way. Pay a little more, and get treated with respect. 


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