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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How not to do Twitter

Today's Independent carries a gripping story about what happened when the Chief Executive of Ryanair was let loose on Twitter. They say that the airline's first venture into the world of the live Q&A was a shambles from the start:

The idea was that passengers could post questions to the airline’s boss, Michael O’Leary, using the hashtag “#GrillMOL”. But the combative CEO seemed unaware that his inappropriate response to one of the first questioners – a woman – would be seen by everyone.

His comment (“Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL”) was rapidly re-tweeted, with responses such as “@Ryanair how is it appropriate for an airline CEO to be a sexist pig?”, and: “People who fly Ryanair: do you also think this is an acceptable thing to tweet at a woman?”

Mr O’Leary eventually responded: “Just found out what hashtags are. Learning on da job! Always compliment ladies pics”.

Even before the “Twitter chat” got under way – 50 minutes early, due to a scheduling error – it was clear that many disgruntled travellers saw it as an opportunity to take revenge on Europe’s biggest low-cost airline.

“What type of people do you enjoy mistreating most? I’m guessing elderly and disabled?” was one of the earliest tweets, quickly followed by: “Were you born an arsehole or has it progressed throughout your life?” and: “Is it company policy for your staff to be rude and unhelpful as possible?”

Other popular topics included baggage charges, the distance from Ryanair’s terminals to cities it says it flies to and the perceived lack of comfort in its spartan cabins.

Among the many tweets to go unanswered were some about tragic personal circumstances. “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,” read one. “Why no response for a refund request (sent reg. post) in over a month from seriously ill girl with special needs? @Ryanair #scum” went another.

When Mr O’Leary entered into a discussion, it did not always end amicably. One questioner asked: “Is there any truth in the rumour that you plan to charge passengers for each inhalation they make after take off?” The chief executive responded instantly with: “Hi Beth, great idea. Have a team workin’ on it as we breathe!” The riposte read: “I thought you might like that one you money-grabbing bastards”.

One Ryanair employee who dared to join the conversation by tweeting, “So my boss is on Twitter right now,” received the immediate response: “Get back to work you slacker or you’re fired.”

As a public relations exercise you wonder why Ryanair did it. Perhaps the best advice for them is to step away from the computer slowly and go back to the drawing board.
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