Ryanair CEO Twitter Chat: Blunt or Stunt?

Ryanair’s Chief Executive Operator Michael O’Learly took to the company’s Twitter account in late October to conduct a Q&A “Twitter chat” with followers. Using the hashtag #GrillMOL, users could ask the CEO any questions they wanted, and he would candidly respond to as many as he could. His blunt and sometimes inappropriate responses received both negative and positive feedback which Entrepreneur.com summed up as “fascinating, inappropriate and helpful.”

From the outset,  O’Learly’s personality shone through. One of his first responses was to a woman follower in which he stated, “Nice pic. Phwoaarr! MOL.”

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While some people were entertained, others called him a “pig” and vowed to never fly Ryanair again.

At one point, an employee decided to chime in, but O’Learly put him in his place calling him a “slacker” and told him to “get back to work.”

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Later, clearly trying to steer away from technical discussions, the airline CEO told a follower that his “boring techno babble question” was not allowed.

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The chat eventually ended with O’Learly stating that he will only extend the time limit of the chat to allow “pretty  girls as questions.”

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Ryanair itself has faced much controversy and customers were clearly unafraid to speak their minds to O’Learly. Although this is the cheapest airline in Europe, it gets flack for charging customers for any and all services, to which many of the tweets alluded. A specific issue many people have is the $137 fee for not printing your own boarding pass, along with many other hefty charges.

On a positive side, O’Learly did cover some important business concerns during his chat. He announced to followers some upcoming changes for the company such as introducing mobile boarding passes, redesigning its website and retaining its open seating.

Although most of the tweets have since been deleted, the company tweeted that due to the “phenomenal success” of the first chat, they were holding another one the next day. While the second chat was a bit calmer than the first, O’Learly’s not-so-professional side still shone through with a few inappropriate remarks seen below.

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With the upcoming changes Ryanair is making, one can’t help but think that this could be a publicity stunt. What are your thoughts?  Did these Twitter chats do more harm than good? Does it change your opinion of the company? Would it stop you from ever using the airline? And finally, would you file this under “any publicity is good publicity?”

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3 Responses to Ryanair CEO Twitter Chat: Blunt or Stunt?

  1. Leila O'Hara says:

    Since the CEO of a company is often the representative of a corporation in the public’s eyes, I think this move could permanently jeopardize Ryanair’s reputation. I would not file this under the mantra, “any publicity is good publicity,” because this is the type of attention your corporation does not want. O’Leary’s comments make him look like an insensitive, unprofessional bigot, and could cause some stakeholders to lose trust in the brand. This a prime example of a PR crisis, and one that could sever relationships with both current and potential stakeholders.

  2. Lauren Basile says:

    This situation really showcases just how powerful Twitter can be when used for the right and wrong reasons. This a textbook example of how to not engage your consumers in Twitter chats because most people are looking for genuine and honest information during these chats. While some jokes and humor can humanize the CEO, joking to the point of offending users crosses the line. I think this was purely more of a publicity stunt on the airline’s part and this Twitter “chat” probably did more harm than good. Although I don’t know the reputation and perceptions of this particular airline, it would change my opinion of them if I saw this chat and thought well of them before.

  3. Maja Cakarun says:

    Reading these comments from the CEO sounds like a bad joke, I can only imagine how it is to work with him. Looking from the PR stand point, I feel it can attract more damage than use. I’m not against a joke and informal style at all (since we are not dealing with a government institution), but indecency and bluntness is another category of communication that should not be tolerated in the public space (which social networks are). Consumers should feel special and their voice should be heard by the management, but with these kind of comments I assume quite the opposite message. It will be interesting to see how the company’s image is developing if similar communication continues.

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