Ryanair: big boys, bullies and the blogosphere

2 Mar 2009

One week on from the media blitz following Ryanair staff hurling insults at “idiot bloggers” and making no apology for it, web developer Jason Roe mulls over the large corporate’s perception of the blogging community, and considers if a thousand small voices really matter when dealing with the big guys.

Through the magic of IP tracing, three separate Ryanair staff members may have been caught red-handed dishing out insults ranging from “you’re an idiot and a liar” to referring to Jason Roe’s life as “pathetic”, but when you’re a budget, no-frills airline, is all publicity no good publicity?

“It’s hard to tell. To be honest, it seems any publicity is good publicity to some people,” said Roe.

“I think many people were shocked and outraged by the response of the comments and the subsequent official statement (“idiot bloggers”) from the company.”
While this can be looked at as another PR exercise for Ryanair, or perhaps the quirky story of the week for the media web developer, Roe felt that this experience highlights the mainstream perception and fundamental misunderstanding of bloggers and blogs in general.

“I think people need to gain a greater understanding of what blogs are and how the tone of a message can influence how this conversation can spread to a wider audience.

“There are a lot of well-respected blogs and bloggers out there, many of whom have a large readership.

“From an online engagement point of view, I think Ryanair sent out a clear message in relation to how they perceive bloggers as a whole. With this in mind, I wasn’t expecting much of an apology.”

Roe’s opinion on having been thrust into the spotlight as a result of this incident is that this could have happened to anyone.

“In my own situation with Ryanair, it is quite difficult for an ordinary person to be belittled in such a way by such a big brand name. After all, blogging should be seen almost as a public service in its own right.

“People should have the right to express themselves and not be blasted for doing so. The ‘big boys’ need to understand that customers have a powerful way to let people know about their experiences.”

The one point that seems to have been overlooked in all this, a point which Roe agrees on, is that this is not about Ryanair v bloggers; it is about Ryanair’s attitude towards its customers – one which seems to be consistent with going out of the way to insult a customer, never mind ignoring the problem the customer has with booking their flight in the first place.

And the media have a part to play in this too. We are more than happy to espouse the virtues of blogging for businesses and how it can help with customer interaction, but when something like this happens, mistreated bloggers are treated as a quirky news topic – completely missing the point and negating any positivity about the power of citizen journalism.

“Blogging has traditionally been seen an outlet valve, outside of traditional/mainstream media. As more and more Irish people are availing of broadband in Ireland, blogging as an outlet has collided with the mainstream to highlight every-day issues that ordinarily could go unnoticed,” Roe explained.
He is hoping this recent experience will open up further dialogue with bloggers, after receiving an interesting quote on this from Nichola Stott, head of Partner Development at Yahoo!
“Organisations need to understand and embrace the fact that consumers (their potential customers) are not passive and voiceless; and that the growth of social media and blog forums for peer opinion sharing is an immediate and wide-reaching way to both engage and inform an audience,” she said.
So after all these years, has blogging failed to be seen as a serious avenue for conversation, or are there just a few corporates who look upon it in a negative light?

“Many Irish businesses have started to realise that blogging as a medium is just another way to get a message out to the wider public,” says Roe.

“As more companies start to adopt blogs and begin an open conversation with their customers, they will quickly realise the benefit of the medium as a whole.
What companies need to realise is that when a conversation is started with one blogger, it can quickly spread across the globe, he explains.

“As with any public relations, the tone of the conversation often defines the direction of how that conversation will spread. Once a message it out there, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to shape or spin a story in another direction.”

The message for Ryanair? People will talk online; if you treat customers badly you cannot stop the ensuing conversation and, no, bad publicity will not be the downfall of a large organisation, but it will lead to some – this writer included – finding alternative online airlines with which to book flights, if at all possible.

By Marie Boran