How Ryanair is using social media to keep you coming back for more

“We hired a group of kids under the age of 25 and sent them forth and said, ‘Look, write whatever you want on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok,’” O’Leary told Skift recently.

“I don’t understand TikTok, don’t follow it, never gone on it. To me, it is mindless rubbish, but millions of people around the world follow Ryanair’s account. I think we are now by far one of the biggest corporate entities on TikTok.”

Incredibly, there is actually research to support that social media engagement from low-cost airlines can do wonders to improve customer loyalty—even in the absence of anything remotely resembling “service.” Researchers from the National Taiwan Normal University and California State University published a paper last year investigating how Taiwanese people’s trust in budget airlines was influenced by the companies’ social media strategies.

Low-cost airlines (LCAs) “typically reduce costs in several ways (e.g. hiring fewer employees, skipping some service procedures, and minimizing the frequency of interacting with customers),” the paper, published in Research in Transportation Business and Management, says. “As a result, cost reduction usually results in lower service and product qualities, causing negative influences on customers’ trust and commitment.”

The researchers found that as customers engage more with low-cost airlines’ social media accounts, they are more likely to trust the airline, commit to them, and perceive higher value. “These results suggest that customer engagement in LCA’s social media plays a crucial role for LCAs that adopt low-cost strategies to attract customers,” the researchers wrote.

The study didn’t investigate whether negging customers is the best way to win their trust, but for Ryanair, it seems to be a brilliant “we’re in on the joke” strategy. While other airlines of course have their own social media strategies, many seem to trend more toward helpful tips or destination guides than insulting their passengers. But where Ryanair has over 2 million TikTok followers, Southwest Airlines and EasyJet have about 320,000 and 265,000 respectively.

Ryanair has received significant press for its ‘we know you’ll crawl back to us eventually’ approach, and O’Leary is often quoted for brash, unfiltered statements most corporate executives probably couldn’t get away with. It has become one of the tricks he deploys to rile up customer ire and make headlines. Most recently, he called out Boeing execs for spewing “corporate bullsh*t” in response to the 737 Max crisis.

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