The latest Social Media Gaffes: What Were They Thinking?Recently I read about two big social media gaffes that could only go into my “what were they thinking?” file. The irony is they are two companies that I have covered in the past.  I think it just goes to show how out of touch these companies are about how the public feel about them.


#1 O’Leary Tweets Like a Twit – Ryanair

Ryanair are a budget airline in Europe. Recently, Ryanair CEO and founder committed to improving the abhorrent levels of customer service on his discount airline, largely at the behest of stockholders. I wrote about this in a very popular post called Ryanair: The start of the decline. It received 64,000 views and 581 comments. If you read the comments you will see many people hate Ryanair, along with myself.

Here are just a few of the past quote from their CEO Michael O’Leary about Customers.

We think they should pay 60 Euros for being so stupid.” (regarding the boarding pass fee)

You’re not getting a refund so **** off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?” (when customers complain and demand a refund)

Anyone who thinks Ryanair flights are some sort of bastion of sanctity where you can contemplate your navel is wrong. We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.” (regarding the in-flight experience)

One of the new things Ryanair’s marketing team tried was to put O’Leary on a live Q and A chat on Twitter. Right from the start, the effort was a clear failure. The firing squad of public opinion was loaded and ready to take shots at the controversial CEO about everything from mistreating the elderly and disabled to excessive baggage charges to perceived lack of comfort in the cabins.

O’Leary seemed ill prepared for the session. He started off by offending most of the audience with a comment about a lady’s picture on Twitter.

His comment “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL” was rapidly re-tweeted everywhere and people over twitter responded

“@Ryanair how is it appropriate for an airline CEO to be a sexist pig?”

“People who fly Ryanair: do you also think this is an acceptable thing to tweet at a woman?”

See other tweets here

The issue is, as usual, he was being inappropriate and offensive. Then after a joke about not previously understand hashtags (#), he went on to offend the rest of the audience with his off-color comments and snarky remarks.

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

You may think this is a joke but when you have heard him say in the past.

“MBA students come out with: ‘My staff is my most important asset.’ Bull****. Staff is usually your biggest cost. We all employ some lazy ******* who needs a kick up the backside, but no one can bring themselves to admit it.”

….you start to think it wasn’t a joke…

#2 British Gas Social Media Full of Hot Air

In Great Britain, the energy companies are becoming hated institutions, and this hatred is led by the market leader British Gas. With winter approaching, British Gas just announced a 9.2% rate hike in prices. Then, in a bout of absolutely wretched timing, they had a live Twitter Q & A. Customers that were outraged and very active with their Twitter accounts barbecued their service director, Bert Pijls.

But in a move that leaves even the most forgiving of observers scratching their heads, British Gas then ran a Facebook Ad just four days later. The ad, which claims “We’re committed to keeping Britain warmer this winter”, suffered 20,000 negative comments and 2,700 shares. Clearly, this is not the kind of sharing that the social media team had in mind when they placed the ad.

But it does beg the question, what did they have in mind? One certainly has to question the judgment of a marketing department that makes not one, but two major social media blunders in the course of just 4 days.

How to Change Customer Perception of Your Experience

I think this shows how out of touch these companies are with public opinion and that will take a long time to put right. To me this is the result of Ryanair really having no idea how much animosity is leveled at their brand. I have said before that I consider this airline a “naïve” company, which at Beyond Philosophy means that they are not at all focused on the customer experience they provide. In Ryanair’s case, I would also argue that they don’t care. Putting things like this on social media is a recipe for disaster as these vents have proven. There are lots of ways to change the perception of your customer experience.

“Putting the cart before the horse” is a great old saying/criticism that explains that there is a way to do things in a specific order in order to get the best results. In the case of Ryanair, O’Leary is the cart and his position in front of the horse ends up with him looking much more like “other” end.

As far as British Gas goes, I think perhaps they didn’t realize the outcry that would result from their rate hike. Pijls bravely took his seat on that fateful Thursday morning in part because he must not have known what was coming next. I can’t imagine that if they had knowledge of the extent of the failure in providing a good customer experience that either organization would have put O’Leary or Pijls in such a position.

It is naïve and misguided to think you can change your perception of your customer experience by opening the doors of communication on Twitter right at the start, may be later down the line when you have shown you are serious about the change.

Then once you have implemented concrete changes in how you treat customers, you can open the doors of live communication on social media. To do otherwise is setting yourself up for failure. And the scathing wit of dissatisfied people.

Ryanair and British Gas have both had a hard week. We may not know what they were thinking then, but I have a pretty good idea of what they are thinking now.

Both are likely to be reassessing their strategy for social media, and likely the staff they have in those positions. I would say that both could benefit from a little more homework at the company level before they open the floodgates of feedback readily available on social media.  Another practical suggestion I would make to them would be to attend our Customer Experience Management training program, where we can teach them how to go about improving their Customer Experience!


The latest Social Media Gaffes: What Were They Thinking? by colin shaw

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books & recognized Business Influencer by LinkedIn. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

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