From its humble beginnings in 1984, Ryanair has grown to become one of Europe’s leading airlines. It has established itself as a prominent and influential brand, known for its innovative approaches to engaging with customers through social media platforms.

With a strong emphasis on building a vibrant and humorous online presence, Ryanair has effectively utilized social media channels to connect with their audience, drive brand awareness, and deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Social media for airlines

In this episode we speak with Michael Corcoran head of social and creative content at Ryanair. We uncover what makes Ryanair an aviation social media leader as we unravel the secrets behind Ryanair’s social media triumphs.  We’ll also explore their unique and playful strategies, creative campaigns, and the impact of their social marketing initiatives on their overall success.

Thinking about following Ryanair’s lead and using humor in your social media marketing? When it’s done right it can have a powerful impact on your bottom line.

Speakers: Cat Anderson & Michael Corcoran

Cat: Welcome to season two of Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. I’m Cat and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media.

This is a space for anyone and really, nearly anything goes. But what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it’s hard to know, but that’s exactly what we’re here to find out.

Throughout the series, we’ll talk to the brands behind some of the best accounts you know, and some that you don’t know yet, to explore the way these businesses, organisations, and individuals have achieved their success on social media, and crucially, how you can do it too.

If I’ve learned anything from this podcast, it’s that success on social comes in all shape and sizes, but whatever your goals are on social, you need to get people’s attention.

And wow, to say that today’s guest have done that is an understatement. I am, of course, talking about Ryanair.

With a relentless focus on cost-effective operations and a customer-centric approach, Ryanair has established itself as a true success story in the aviation industry.

Today, we’re going to delve into Ryanair’s disruptive marketing strategies, their unique messaging, and how their clever utilisation of social media and digital marketing has further contributed to their overall huge success.

Joining me today, is the brilliant Michael Corcoran, Head of Social & Creative Content at Ryanair. And just to let you all know ahead of time, this episode does include some bad language.

It also includes tons of great insights, but if naughty words aren’t your thing, feel free to skip this episode.

Michael, it is so great to have you on the show today, and I can’t wait to get stuck into this because Ryanair, holy moly, your social media presence is absolutely enormous.

You are known for having a savage tone of voice, which basically, demonstrates your wicked sense of humour and a tonality that is frankly just chef’s kiss. Everybody loves it.

But one thing that is really, really obvious about your social media presence is that it feels incredibly intentional. And in terms of your social media matching your brand, it feels very much like Cinderella’s foot on the Glass Slipper.

So, I was wondering, could you tell me a little bit about how you landed on this particular social media strategy?

Michael: People think it’s something that has been generated within say, the last two years since we kind of took a shift in strategy, and kind of supercharged our social media channels. Now, most of that was a mix of conditioning and luck.

But for many who are familiar with Ryanair of the past, the tone has been there for a very, very long time. Like when we moved to the low-cost model — we live and breathe low-cost as a business, that doesn’t mean we’re cheap; we’re efficient, and every pound or Euro all counts.

So, we took a very strong route to PR-led marketing in the early days of Ryanair, and that was driven by the back of our CEO, and everything was about low-cost, high-return reach, and the only way we could really stand out was being disruptive.

Kind of added to that as well beyond the tone, but there’s a disruption in our DNA, and like we disrupted aviation when we came to the market. When you flew British Airways, Aer Lingus, the big national flag carrier in the early eighties, it’d cost you an arm and a leg just to go on a holiday.

We democratised travel for everyone, and we disrupted the industry, and the rest is history for us and for others, and what we’ve done in the market. So, we were given a licence to do that, and we were almost allowed to go back to our roots and speak and behave in a way that we’ve done for a very long time.

Now, the team did that even before I was here. It was present, but it was probably mixed with a couple of other styles of corporate social media marketing that we took a decision and became disciplined in not doing certain things.

And when it comes to strategy, strategies are about sacrifice sometimes, and it’s about doing something but also, not doing things at the same time. And look, I think a lot of what we’ve done has been born off good timing and luck at the same time of certain platforms too, especially the emergence of TikTok.

When TikTok arrived and started to become popular, COVID hit. Our industry was decimated. We had social media teams before my time who were here that had no destinations to talk about because you couldn’t go there.

So, TikTok arrived, they found a way for it to be of relevance to us. They test, they learned. They didn’t land on it straight away, but it became this comfort blanket for the world that we really tapped into.

We started to identify patterns around the type of tone and the type of content people were looking for on the internet, now and probably all the time that really corporate brands have broke for many, many years.

Like people go to the internet to be entertained and to get away from all the chaos that’s in the world. And that was certainly on TikTok, driven by Gen Z and Gen Z culture, and the ability to project how they’re feeling good and bad on those platforms, and almost lean in on dark humour, dramatising the things that are happening in the world, and joking about it in a dark way to make it okay and for them, to process it.

And we took a lot of learning from that. We took a lot of learning then from what we’ve done in the past, and we started to match it together and bring it across all our channels. And yeah, it’s had impact.

Look, you’re very complimentary on the success of what we’ve done, and I think we’re trying to be as humble as we can in what’s happened, but there are many people who get it, and there are many people who don’t get it and dislike it, and that’s okay too because we’re not here to please everybody.

We are a polarising brand, and we’re starting to learn more and more about that certainly in social and hopefully, beyond our creative, that that’s actually a superpower we have in our marketing tool that can take us many, many places.

Cat: I don’t think there’s very many people who have not encountered Ryanair on social media, but just in case there are, I’d love to hear in your words what would be the adjectives that you would use to describe your tonality?

Michael: We are self-deprecating and irreverent when it comes to some of the cues we have in our tone of voice. We are not afraid to make fun of ourselves in the process.

And we’ve identified social has been this place where people have used Ryanair as a joke and we’ve become this meme for years of when people fly, and you ask, “Who do you fly with?” And they go “Ryanair.”

And you hear a tot or an eye roll and it’s just like that’s the instant reaction, and there’s always jokes about flying with us. So, rather than kind of moving away from it, we lean in on the joke and we’ve started to not take ourselves too seriously, and that’s okay.

Because we’re really confident in what we provide when it comes to value and reach and connectivity. And there’s just certain things we don’t do other airlines do because it’s not necessary. We’re a low-cost budget airline.

So, self-deprecation is a huge part of it. Being disruptive, playful, provocative, we know is going to grab attention for good and for bad. So, that’s another component that goes into it. And the last piece then is irreverence.

So, to be relevant to topics that’s happening in the world, you need to have a view and opinion on it, and we aren’t afraid to do that. But what we try and do is then we try and link it directly or indirectly back to something about what we do. And then that gives us somewhat, permission to be talking in that space at that moment in time.

Now, there are other cues we’re developing — now, that’s purely social tones, but like if I was to give you the tone of voice answer; our three kind of anchors, we are clear and concise. We don’t labour on words, we come straight to the point. We try and communicate as quickly and as directly as we can.

We’re honest and direct. We’re not afraid to say the things that we should say or do about us and about what’s happening in the world, and we’re playful and we’re self-deprecating.

They’re the main anchors if I was to give you the document of what our tone of voice is.

Cat: Well, I think it’s really clear that you are authentic to the brand, and this is something that, again, I always say that when I say “authentic” in a conversation about social media, a colloquium goes off somewhere because it’s so overused.

But truly, you really are authentic to the brand, and I feel like hearing you talk about how you saw how people were talking about your brand and instead of trying to resist against it, leaned into it and have some fun with it, it really brings the audience along with you.

And I think it’s something that a lot of brands try to do but fail. They might have a very sarcastic tone of voice online, but the real-life experience doesn’t really line up. Whereas, I feel like it is pretty consistent; you know who you are, and it is reflected.

Do you think that this ethos is shared within the company? Is this how the whole company as an entity operates?

Michael: It’s a difficult one. Like when it comes to not taking ourselves too seriously about what we do, yeah, that’s inherent. But we are a serious operation and a serious machine.

We’re putting 3,000 flights in the air per day. Our on-time performance (I’m drinking the Kool-Aid here now, so you’re getting a bit of the spiel) and how we operate in every inch of what we do is obsessed about in this business.

But we are a brand that try to be something that we are, we want to represent who we are and what we do, and that’s getting you from point A to point B for the lowest price possible as close to on time as possible. And everything we do lives and breathes here.

Marketing might have got a little bit lost along the way because again, like all brands, they use social in a way that they thought was right, that was trying to be this fake, filtered, natured brand on the platforms that just doesn’t cut through.

That was influenced a lot by the influencer era within Instagram, but also, us brands, and we all have to take the blame for breaking social media, and that normally happens on most social media channels that we always fuck things up.

And not many can do what we do and behave in our way because they’re afraid to do it. But also, they don’t believe in their products so much that they have to shape things around it to make it better than what it is.

Our product is unbreakable in this business, that it’s been done and set up in such a way, and the operation is so smart that even if we don’t do anything on social media, even if we don’t do anything on marketing, this business is so confident that they’ll reach 300 million passengers by 2033, with the objectives and the plans they’re going to put in place. And I wouldn’t doubt them for a second that they won’t reach that.

Cat: So, that’s really interesting. I just want to jump on one thing that you said there that even without the social media, you think the model is strong, we’re going to hit that anyway. What does social media contribute? Why is social media such a big part of Ryanair, then?

Michael: There’s still the timeless truths of marketing. You still have to have top of mind awareness to drive some sort of consideration.

Now, we’re lucky in a sense that no matter when you search for flights, whether it’s aggregator sites or Google search or wherever you go, we’re going to be probably present because normally, they’re filtered by cost and value, and we are going to naturally appear. So, that’s not a concern for us.

But it’s just finding other ways to reinforce being top of mind. And that’s the big part, and it’s why earned media is so important too because it generates even more top of mind awareness.

We do have some other challenges within the brand or business that we know social is starting to solve right now, based on the insights that we’re provided, and we’re even learning that and spreading it across our wider channels.

When it comes to perception about flying low cost, people’s expectations are far too high and we’re trying to identify what has influenced that, but we can’t. And they think they will get premium experiences for a low-cost ticket and a low-cost price, and there seems to be a disconnect there.

And what we’re seeing, most of the pain points are coming from the millennial generation, it’s crazy. It’s people like me, the privileged generation who grew through the boom times expect first class experience on the flight that cost you the price of a can of Coke and a packet of crisps, and it’s just like, “What are you thinking? What is your expectation here?”

And we have a job to shift that perception and that expectation, and social has become a really smart channel to do that. And it’s smart for a number of reasons because it’s a very good playground for us to be playful, entertaining, self-deprecating, live and breathe the brand who we are.

Underneath that angle of leaning with entertainment, we can then start to ladder messages whether it’s reactive indirectly or indirectly baking a message in from low costs, no frills, to actually points around the operation that are first-world problems that people will normally come and complain about on the internet that we can actually start to counter on.

And the last piece of the puzzle then, which I find the most fascinating, it’s probably the one people don’t know enough about, and that’s having a huge influence and we’re trying to find ways to measure it, is that when we go live with content across any of our channels now compared to two years ago, the sentiment within the community has completely changed because of those first world complaints and genuine complaints, and they’re the ones we have to fix.

But when people come in with first world problems underneath something that we might have been quite witty and self-deprecating over that normally people would consider a pain point, but it’s just really a step in the process that you need to understand and be okay with to fly at low-cost.

That we have people who are coming to fight our corner in the community sections. Not just because they’re entertained by the content, because they get Ryanair, and they get the low-cost model.

And we’re seeing advocates being on at it and fighting our corner because we as a brand and as a corporate identity, trying to convince people that we’re not the bad guys all the time, we offer really good things and we’re trying to convince you of something.

There’s a trust gap we still need to go on a journey of fixing properly. But the vast majority of people who fly with us get from A to B as close on time as possible for low price and they never have a problem.

But the difference is, and I’m going to use this analogy, and I’m stealing it from the great Roy Keen, is when your postman delivers letters to your door, you do not open up that door every day, give him a high five, a fist pump or a hog and say “You smashed it buddy. You are nailing it all the fucking time.”

We are like the postman. When we do our job, we do our job really, really well, hail, rain, or shine, and people don’t need to go sing our praise. But what the content is starting to do now, is grabbing their attention or entertaining them. It’s relatable to their experiences but also aviation and travel.

And then when they briefly see the comment sections, we’re triggering them to go, “I’ve never had an issue with Ryanair, I’ve flown with them for the last 15 years. They get me from A to B for a little as possible. Yeah, sometimes there might be a bit of friction, but I’m okay with that. I get what I pay for.”

And we’re starting to see these people actually fight our corner and convince the people who are normally on the fence about us change their mind. And that to me, is a huge lever of why social is playing an important role beyond talkability, reach, and the things that we don’t necessarily need right now, because the business does its work anyway.

Cat: Yeah, that’s amazing because it’s one thing for you to be trying to convince people and bridge that trust gap as you say, to say, “Look, it’s low cost, what did you expect?”

But if you’ve got customers saying that, telling these people to wind their neck-ins for want of a better phrase, and be like, “Look, this is what it is.” A really popular example of that I think is the one where people are complaining that they get a window seat and there’s no window just with the configuration of the plane.

And you have responded so well to that just being like, “Yeah, but this is Ryanair, you’re by where the window would be, that’s just the plane.” But there’s been a whole pile of things like that. I just love that you’ve built a community of advocates now as well.

Michael: It’s an interesting time though for community as well, because we’re nervous, we’re building something that is quite big and strong. But any platform from what we can see with the scary Elon Musk could go to pot overnight. And once it goes to pot, we say goodbye to all that community.

And that’s a big challenge for everyone going forward, but is there a way that if you can build Fandom or whatever kind of fluff word for community you want to use, how can you own that community and bring them with you wherever you go.

And I know Instagram are looking at ways to try and identify that. I think with new threads and other channels, whether you can start to get connections to the community. I know Twitter are, if you subscribe to a follower on Twitter that you can now get access to their email.

Like social is evolving so much that what we’re doing now is great, but it’s going to change with gen alphas and their dark messaging and their smaller communities like Discord and it’s going to be a big, big concern.

Cat: Yeah, but I mean I think at the same time, what I always really like about social media marketing is that every time you do any sort of marketing, you’re having an interaction with a potential customer and you’re building that little connection, whether that’s neurological synapses that are sparked up because something is really funny.

And with social media, unlike many, many other types of media, you get to do this multiple times a day, as many times a day as you see is fit.

So, you have multiple interactions with these people which can help build, as you say, a much stronger community. And because your marketing is based very much in humorous content, I understand your concern, but I would feel quite confident that people would go and find you.

So, say something happens in a platform, TikTok has gone in the morning, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But if for whatever reason, that happens, I would be so confident that people would be seeking out Ryanair on whatever other platform there is, simply because from where I’m sitting and the conversations that I have with people, people love what you’re doing, to the extent that people are now trying to emulate it, and not really that successfully as well.

So, I’d actually love to ask you about the copycat syndrome because I feel like lots of people are trying to do what you’re doing now, what’s your thought on that? Is it the most sincere form of flattery or is it a pain in the neck?

Michael: We try not to think about it out there because again, look, there’s enough eyeballs and enough space for everyone to have their moment in the sun.

What concerns me as a social media professional is, they’re just doing it for reach. Is there really any sort of strategy behind the purpose of it? Of course, the objective of social is to get reach but to be a brash, sassy social brand as everyone kind of refers to it, that concerns me that they’re probably doing short-term success but maybe long-term pain for the brand they’re representing.

And even the type of communication or the things they talk about — like when we try to be, I guess topical on things that are happening, we do our best to bring it back to us directly or indirectly every time; how we think about product, services, policies.

I know it sounds like boring things, but we try to make it work in the context of what’s happening in the world. For others, they’re just doing it for the sake and that scares me. And they think that that’s a route to success.

I contradict myself sometimes on this, that the objective on social in most cases is reach. And if anybody says it’s other, they’re talking to their nose. And I’m speaking specifically on organic social. Organic content is about driving reach.

Yes, it can deliver it, but I have concern that tonally and what you’re trying to do for your brand long-term, it may have much, much impact. And at a certain point, you’re going to have to re-look at what is it doing for the brand itself.

And like I’m trying to think about a couple of brands and I could name and I normally do, and I’m not sure whether I should.

Cat: I want to encourage you to be mischievous, but obviously, only say what you want to say.

Michael: Look, I’ll give you a couple of examples. Like Domino’s are kind of almost in that space and they’re very playful as a brand, but do they need to be pushing the way they are in certain topics and speaking a certain way on social?

I don’t know if it’s needed. They may be forcing it a little too much. They don’t need to force it because they’ve got millions and millions of budget in marketing that is reaching many people. So, they’re going to be mentally available already.

Their creative has always been playful and entertaining, and it lives to their brand very, very well. So, is it a necessity for them on social to do that or are they just hiring people in because they’re working with similar brands that do that and they’re just trying to emulate it for reach, and just to have these noteworthy points within reports or talk about it within the business? That concerns me for a brand like Domino’s.

They of course, can still be playful. They can of course, do very clever things, but talking about topics in the way they’re doing it, concerns me.

In short, there are certain brands this will and could work for. There is a playground to be playful and to be self-deprecating, and I’d love to see more brands do it; but to do and repeat things that we are doing in the ways that we are doing it, I would advise people to really think about the long-term impact that’s going to have for your brand or business.

We do it for a certain reasons. It ladders back up to our strategy, which is fairly robust with true insights and problems and opportunities that we try to solve. And tonally, we’ve always been like this, this is nothing new.

Whereas, many other brands, this is something new, but it could influence how people perceive your brand long-term, which may be great, maybe not.

Cat: I will say that you are in a fortunate position where Ryanair really is prioritising social, and I think a lot of people maybe work in companies where they don’t understand truly the impact of social or don’t put enough effort into developing a strategy.

But then will turn to their social media teams and say, “Hey, can you make this go viral? Like why are we not going viral? Why are we not as big as … like who’s big? Ryanair’s big, make us like Ryanair.”

And so, I would wonder if some of it comes from that sort of headspace. Because the thing is as well, you are getting — one of my favourite articles that came out last year was the Washington Post wrote an article about … I know that you know this article, entitled, Europe’s Largest Airline Is a Troll in Social Media and It’s Working For Them.

And I remember putting a LinkedIn post up and I said that reading your social media is like going to the front row of a comedy show where you’re like, “I cannot wait for this, but I also don’t want to be picked on because I know that nothing is off limits.”

And of course, people want to replicate that. So, I can totally understand your concern about have they really strategized this through, because if not, it’s just going to fall like a house of cards. But it is a little bit flattering.

Just on the comedy thing, I wanted to ask what is off limits? Because I’ve seen you talk about Netflix shows, I’ve seen you kind of make fun of customers, stuff that other brands just don’t go near.

I still think you’re top of the game at it. So, we don’t have to go into obvious things that would be off the table, but what do you say to your social team to say like, “Hey, mmm, maybe we skip that one?”

Michael: Again, we don’t have to talk about the obvious ones. Things we avoid is safety. Anything that’s connected with safety or topics around safety or things that are happening in the world that would link back to safety, we avoid for good and for bad.

As an airline, our safety record is the best in the world, but we don’t want to brag about it nor do we want to bring it into any sort of negative disrepute. There were certain things around being direct and we’re learning a lot as well.

We have made mistakes in some of the things we’ve done sometimes but what we’re so lucky about is we test in the real world. So, there are certain things and topics we know which we don’t have to discuss, are the line, but we try and get close to the line as possible.

What I do is an exercise when people start in this team and when I built the team about a year and a half ago, we created a space called the Cutting Room Floor.

So, the Cutting Room Floor, when you come in and start here, rather than telling you a list of things that you can’t do and put up creative blockers immediately, the Cutting Room Floor is a safe space for them to drop any sort of idea, any sort of topic, to get their creative juices going; get comfortable with the tone and get comfortable with talking about topics that are happening in the world.

In some cases, what goes in there will never see light of day. Some cases, we can actually work it back to the point where it’s workable on the internet, and it’s a good space for people to just get a feel for how far they can push it and we can make judgement calls.

Then sometimes, depending on the type of topic, once it’s not an obvious element that bullies or discriminates, we try things. We’re not afraid to because we have the licence and we’re not afraid to make the mistakes either.

Because if you don’t try, you’ll never know, and I hope that I wasn’t going to use this, but I will — I’m obsessed with Kobe Bryant, and there’s a saying he has called “Boos don’t block dunks.”

So, we’re okay with taking some of the negativity and people who don’t like some of our work in order to make shots, and sometimes those shots don’t go. But if we don’t make the shot in the first place, it’ll never happen.

And like there’s plenty of examples of the content we’ve done that if we didn’t make it because we were concerned, it never would’ve had the reach or impact that got there.

So, I’m trying to give you shape on it, but there’s very little things that are off the table. But there’s very specific ways to mitigate the risk on certain topics. So, we don’t go into space of discrimination, bullying, targeted things.

And there has been times where we have made the slight mistake when mitigating it to still lean in on the topic as closely as we can, but do it in a way that avoids repercussions for the person or the group of people we could be making the joke of.

What I try and communicate with the team as well and specifically environments like Twitter, that when you put something out there — so like I call this the anatomy of a tweet. In the anatomy of a tweet, you’ll put out your tweet. You’ll have people who will like it and people who won’t. And that’s purely on the context of the tweet.

It’s the topic, the information. People will like it, great; we’ll get reach, we’ll get engagement, and there’s people who won’t, and they’ll voice their views on it, and we’re okay with that. And it’s okay if people don’t like sometimes the things we put out.

But then you’ve got people who will take it out of context, and those people who take it out of context is what supercharges the unnecessary negativity sometimes on the back of some of the things you deliver.

There’s people who just genuinely don’t like your brand for some reason, who will just no matter what you put out there, will try and find a way to bring it back to their problem.

You’ll have people who will then just take it out of context for no reason and troll because they’re trolls. And then you’ll have people who are influenced by other people on the internet, and what they say or do.

And when you’ve got influential people who then don’t like a topic, their people will then fight that corner too because people they admire have a disagreement or a different view on it, and they’ll all back that. We see that all the time.

I try and explain the anatomy of a tweet for people to compartmentalise when we put something out there that it’s okay. The team go through it a lot. They’re humans at the end of the day. They’re on a journey of being stronger emotionally when it comes to working in a professional environment.

But social is a tough space to work in where you are seeing and living and breathing every response people pass to your content all the time. And that can put people off, pushing the boundaries and finding that line, especially in our space where we can go that line.

And by explaining this and getting them better, compartmentalising the risks and understanding the environment, and people will like it or people will take it out of context and you need to be comfortable with that. If you can get comfortable day by day, week by week, it means that we’ll creatively push the line more and more.

Cat: I have to say, not just as a marketer, but as someone who considers themselves a creative person, that concept of the Cutting Room Floor signs such a delicious environment to work in, where you can work with other people to find your footing within the company, but also, as you said, to workshop things, to imbue a sense of play into it.

And it’s so rare that something like that exists. You do hear stories where an employee has posted X, Y, or Z. You do hear people getting in trouble, but presumably, you’re quite well safeguarded then against that and actually, are looking out for your social media team to, as you say, with the anatomy of a tweet, to be like, “Hey, we’re baking in the fact that not everyone is going to love this.” So, your staff are quite well protected.

Michael: Yeah. Like again, and we’re all humans and even myself, I’ll feel bad sometimes if something doesn’t go right, and we all have emotions. But my job is to lead out the team and protect them, and to empower them to do their best, and that’s for good and for bad.

So, we do have safe spaces to be creative and I do my best to support them and understand how the environment works so they’re not feeling heavy when things are out there. They’re on a journey of getting better, but we have a social media policy.

Yes, we take certain risks on certain things, but we’re supportive with our legal team knowing that we’re okay with taking this risk and if something does backfire, that we’ll deal with it. We all know what we’re trying to do here in Ryanair when it comes to our social. We all know the strategy, we all know the tone.

Sometimes we’ll all question it. We even get nervous ourselves sometimes on whether it’s having an impact. But we’re starting to see, and I guess as other people come into the business from external with their own views on it, either as an employee or as a support, we’re seeing the articles people are writing about it for good.

Like there’s not as many negative ones per se, but concerning ones, people will be, “Is this right long-term?” But the majority are articulating why it’s working, their interpretation of it. And that’s reinforcing what we’re doing time after time. So, it’s making us more comfortable with the approach we’ve taken.

Now, we will iterate. Where we’ve got to right now is at a stage of we know this system and this recipe works, but we’re almost now at a saturation point on the internet where we’re now known, like our vision is to be the most talked about brand on social media. Our director feels we’ve kind of hit that mark already.

Cat: Nice.

Michael: I think there’s plenty of more room to grow, but it means that we don’t have to probably force ourselves as much.

We just have to be more calculated on the opportunities that will get us our success because we were high volume, high frequency for a long period of time and there may be a stage where some of the angles and some of the comedy may get worn out.

That people will get tired of the same joke or the same style, that we need to find a way to invigorate that. And we’re working now strategically on how we do that on social, but not being on social to create it, to be that next level, so we can be more calculated on the trending moments that will give us the greatest success because we can make more informed decisions now of what we think will hit or not.

Now, that’s partly reliant on how the algorithm changes on the internet. Like early this year, Twitter had a bit of a mix and we saw a lot of decrease in reaching opportunities because it started to mess with what we were doing.

However, the flip side was, Instagram has completely come to life for us. We were on average maybe 2 million impressions a week on Instagram. We’re now averaging 11 million impressions.

We’ve grown to hopefully 1.1 million followers in the next week or two. We broke the million a couple of weeks ago. The introduction may be of threads, this new Twitter competitor platform where all of our followers will have an opportunity to actually plug straight in.

And if they already know what we do on Twitter and we start moving into this environment, this may supercharge us even more. And that’s basically even more growth.

So, we do create a safe space. We do know what we’re trying to do. Are we going to get it right all the time? No, but we’re not afraid to try. And I have to put the confidence in the team to have the ability to do that.

We can always mitigate, if you get an idea to a place if needed; we can always decide not to do it, and we can always decide to put it live. And if it doesn’t work, learn from it because the next time, we’ll do better.

Cat: So, this is a little bit random, but I did stand-up comedy for five years and a lot of the process that you are describing is exactly the same with standup comedy, which is like having the confidence, which is a big part of it, just to go out and try stuff out.

And every single large comedian will say the same. They’ll have their big shows like live at the Apollo and stuff like that. But before they get to that level, they have workshopped for years, go into like small clubs, trying jokes out, iterating on them, like having a bit of a cutting room floor situation similar to yourself.

I wonder, have you ever done comedy? Has anyone in your team, have you hired comedians?

Michael: Not hired comedians per se, but there was just some naturally witty people from the internet that I identified as people who could do it. And then we kind of build from there.

I probably fancy myself as a wannabe comedian maybe, and that’s where I’ve studied and learned a lot from how you learn from doing things publicly, but it’s an ambition I’ve always had.

Like just subjectivity kills me. And I’ve been guilty of it for so long myself for a long period even like how polished and perfect I would’ve loved content to be for many, many years.

Like I came to Ryanair, and I literally ripped up 10 to 12 years of experience, and turned it on its edge to do the complete opposite I was advising people to do for years.

But even in that space, subjectivity boils my blood. And the only way to remove subjectivity from things is by letting the audience decide. And a lot of studying, a lot of learnings I would’ve done to figure out, especially when you look at a TikTok, because TikTok is a platform and others are learning that followers is not the success of reach or growth in the platforms.

And it’s said to be true probably everywhere. Even Twitter is an environment that you could learn from that as well. That if it’s good enough and it gets engagement, it will carry beyond your following. And the only way you’re going to know whether that’s going to work or not is how people are receptive to your creative. So, when in doubt, test and learn.

Now, the thing is creativity by committee, layers and layers of sign off and approval ends up killing the idea before it even has a chance. It dilutes it before it goes live. But also, if people are concerned that they’re going to get a bad backlash, they’re never going to figure out how social works.

And that’s the beauty and that’s the privilege that we have here, is that we have the licence to try things and get them wrong in a public domain, and learn from it. And it’s probably why we’ve been able to accelerate on channels like TikTok and on Twitter so fast.

It’s why on Instagram, we’ve probably been able to iterate how we use video meme and static meme and stories in an effective way to grow from where we were two years ago to where we are now.

I would love to say I studied the art of comedy and I’ve studied the likes of the Edinburgh Festival, and how people got their chance to be at Edinburgh, and the small gigs, the comedy clubs, the materials they had to submit even at Edinburgh itself, and how you’ve got to start at the very small pokey places before you can get the headlines. I’d love to say that was it, but it’s probably the same-same but different.

Cat: Yeah. Sincerely, Michael, I think it is same-same but different because the creative process sounds very, very similar. And given that your desired outcome is to make people laugh a lot of the time, when it’s to display humour, I think if you wanted to pivot into a different career, that one could be there for you.

Michael: Well, we have got requests to actually do a gig at Edinburgh Festival.

Cat: Really?

Michael: Not officially, but people, again, I love the way you’ve talked about this. But people on the internet have always referenced, “You guys should do something. I’d love to see you do a roasting sketch at Edinburgh Festival.” And I was like, “That’s a great activation. Maybe we should.”

But again, concern for me, is protecting the identity of the team so they don’t get trolled in their personal lives because they’re not full-time comedians. They’re not ready to take on that responsibility for good or for bad. But maybe we could costume it up and find ways to do it.

But again, like a lot of my inspiration I think has also come from comically platforms, like you might not be familiar with it Emma — Emma, by the way is the producer, she’s not meant to be here, and I made a big, big mistake.

But anyway, let’s keep it in for comedy purposes — is Waterford Whispers news in Ireland, but similar in the UK, you’ve got The Mash Report, and I love how they deliver creatively, topical, relevant pieces of newsworthy information, and brilliant one-liners.

And that’s really, really powerful when it comes to using platforms like Twitter because you’ve got to be succinct, direct, and everybody needs to try and get it for it to work.

And maybe I was inspired by them, but again, there’re influences in my life that has probably directed, how I’ve probably put shape on the work that we do.

Cat: If you do that Edinburgh activation, please let me know because I think that would be amazing because actually, when you mentioned the art of roasting, I think that’s an area of comedy that can be so spectacularly executed but also, in equal measure so terribly executed.

Where people don’t really understand that there is an art to essentially, taking the Mickey out of someone without just flat out insulting them. And I do think that Ryanair are towing that balance very well.

But I want to ask, you must have a few favourites. What are some of your most favourite things that you’ve done on social?

Michael: I think my favourites are probably not the ones that are the highest-reaching, it’s the ones that always give me a giggle. Like we’ve done some really crazy stuff and people can see them, so I don’t need to brag about that.

I think one of my most favourite is there was a guy who came on to Twitter, his name was Ryan Mini, and he had an issue about a bag that wasn’t even with our airline, and he was asking a question about getting either a new bag or getting compensation or something, I can’t remember the reason.

But it was just a play on his name. And we literally responded, “Only if you’re Ryan Nosy.” I love my dad jokes and it was just a play on his name, and flipping at that in such quick wit just sets me off every time. Where it’s like there’s loads of brash, provocative things that we’ve done that are crazy, but from a reactive, that’s one that gives me a giggle.

But what I’m proud of is actually, it’s not the reactive, it’s the always on that we do. So, we, up until now, have been split into two groups. We’ve got reactive in community that does what it says in the team, does all the newsworthy stuff that half of their time week to week is spent nailing that.

The other is always onward. We try to build a foundation because if reactive falls off the edge overnight, we’ve got nothing underneath it. And we were averagely reaching about 5 million people collectively with our content from week to week. But we had nothing there that was still as equally entertaining, still as equally as engaging.

But landing the more kind of first-world problem messages repeatedly, creatively with repetition. And by building that, we took that from essentially, on average, 5 million per week to now, where we’re averaging about 25, 26 million per week.

But that’s the key to unlocking the perception change. And the important part of how we got there was reactive sends these big shoots of reactive success. These spikes, we get to reach millions and millions of people with tweets and TikToks and pieces like that, where it gives us a window of opportunity to re-engage with them because they’ve engaged with that piece of content.

If we try and be like say take the other brands, they’ll have those moments, but then they’ll start publishing loads of corporate vanilla branded content afterwards that people won’t engage with, and you lose that potential of actually building the audience, building the community, building reach time after time.

With us, that always on content equally matches the tone and style of what we do in reactive. When we hit those spikes of reach, we have a short window, we probably get a chance to see one or two pieces of our content displayed on their feed, at a period of time afterwards for them to engage to go, “You like this content, will you like more of my content?”

If you don’t engage with it, algorithm tells me, no, you’re going to go off. If you engage it, it means that okay, we’re going to serve you lots of Ryanair content time after time now for you to engage with. And that’s the beauty of the tactics to our strategy and how we built our team to deliver on it.

That when we shoot with a big piece, we hit with the right hook every time with the reactive and then we keep jabbing away with our always on. So, every time we have a spike, our foundation grew and grew and grew. That’s something I’m extremely proud of.

But the most important thing I’m proud of and what gets me buzzing is developing a strategy that we had the ability to execute. Building a team that then was right for the strategy, which I know that many brands can’t do because they have these typical structures, they don’t even have a strategy in place, let’s be honest.

And they have these typical social media managers, social media executive working in a studio, delivering all this average work. Whereas, if they go back to thinking about a really strong strategy, building the team that’s right for it — and I had the ability to find the right people, the right balance of creativity, chaos, and organisation to actually deliver on our ambition and do it right.

What I’m most proud of is actually finding those people, getting them to the level they are to the point now, where I can now actually hand the keys over. I have somebody who’s leading out that social team that I can now walk away and let her take it forward, and it’s going to evolve and change.

And I can direct from a distance as her support, but now, she’s going to define it, put shape on it, and take it forward. And I’m incredibly proud of that because I can walk out here whenever and say that I was able to do what I was asked to do and regardless of the big reach, set it up in a way that it had the best opportunity to work. And that’s what gets me going beyond all the ideas, beyond all the creative.

Cat: Honestly, I’m actually really envious because you sound like a great manager of creatives, and they are few and far between, and the success speaks for itself.

Michael: I’m learning, we’re all learning.

Cat: Yeah, I think you’re being a little bit modest as well, but it sounds like you’ve got an excellent team there. But I am really impressed with the practices that you’ve set up to support your team to help grow them.

I think for anything creative, as you’ve said multiple times, having a sense of playfulness and experimentation is just key. So, you should be proud of yourself too.

Michael: Of course, of course. But look, one thing I’ll always say as well is like, it sounds like we’re living in this ideal world of everything is working perfectly, and I just want to make sure that people who are listening know that it’s not.

We all have our problems, the politics of business, we all have our challenges. We’re just lucky that some of the levers that we have give us a bit more shape and licence to do things. So, it’s not perfect and we’re always learning, but the beauty is, we’re allowed to learn, and we’re allowed to move it forward.

When I come onto shows or podcasts like this — I’m doing speaker events at the moment, and I’m doing them in a way not to less go up and brag about the great work that we do, you can see that on the internet. What I want to start encouraging people is to start thinking more strategically.

Start finding ways to get better stakeholder buy-in, start building teams that are right for the strategy you’ll eventually get to, and try and be brave and convince your business to test and learn and remove subjectivity of what you’re doing.

Because anyone who says what they’re doing on social media and say this is the right thing to do, is talking absolute bullshit. It’s not black and white at the moment, it’s 15 years in existence. People are still trying to figure out TV and traditional media and still think it’s not being done in the right way.

And I’m keen that that’s my job, not just in Ryanair, but to our, I guess, profession (I even hate saying that), working in social media, the job that we get to do, that it’s not lifting blocks of concrete or not cutting timber or not doing anything heavy lifting, that we’re lucky to do.

I just want to make sure that we get more respect and we put more respect into it to not just follow things that look like they’re working, actually think about what you’re doing first.

Cat: And I can’t say how much I appreciate you saying that because that was the premise for this entire podcast, which is that there’s so much stuff out there that’ll say you just do X, Y, and Z, and you’re going to go viral overnight on social media, and it’s just not the case.

It’s always an up and down, bumpy path of learnings and success and failure. So, I really appreciate your candour in saying that as well, because for many people, it looks like you’re at the top in many categories you are. But it’s good to hear that it’s totally normal and part of the journey to have a few bumps along the way.

Michael: Yeah, of course.

Cat: So, just before we finish up, Michael, in this season of Social Creatures, we are sourcing questions from the industry for some of our guests, and we have one for you today from social media consultant, Matt Navarra.

Matt: Hey Michael, Matt Navarra here. I love what you and the social team at Ryanair do. As much as some people can’t stand it, I think it’s genius and I can see exactly why you do what you do and how you do it.

I think it’d be interesting to hear from you a bit about the legal processes sign off, how does that work with some of the tweets and posts that you make? And is there a line that you draw which you will not cross in terms of content for Ryanair’s accounts?

And what is that line? And have you ever crossed it and made a mistake, and had to remove any content because you’ve realised it’s a step too far?

Michael: Great question by Matt. We have an agreed policy in place with our legal team and our senior people about what we do and don’t do. And look, I won’t labour on that, we could be here talking for days.

But once we play within that policy, the line of approval is with me as head of and our social media lead. Social is a very grey area and we know that a lot of brands take risks on and play on the line, but our legal team is there to guide us rather than stop us or be a barrier to delivering on our strategy.

Yeah, there has been one or two moments that we have got it wrong, but got it wrong in how people took it out of context and probably not doing enough due diligence on the background story to some tweets.

And there’s certain learnings we’ve done where we’ve maybe tagged somebody in it that we shouldn’t, which means that they get notified of all the interactions that are happening. And whilst it’s a joke and they are a public figure, there’s things that we learn when we deliver those types of content that we no longer do.

If we talk about something in the public domain or about somebody who is well-known, we’re not directly going towards them or tagging them in a way that gets traction and might make the situation worse than what it is.

So, there are things we’re a lot more careful on. Look, it’s a very long list of learning some mistakes that we’ve had. There’s been plenty of content that has been taken down, some of it because it’s wrong, and in most cases, because it just didn’t perform.

Like we have a rule where we take content down if it doesn’t hit a certain threshold reach, we just remove it. Is that silly? Losing lots of reach potential in our reporting and our figures? Yes. But we just want to make sure that whatever hits, hits a threshold performance and we move on from there.

I hope that answers it.

Cat: Well, look, Michael, thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Ryanair.

Michael: So am I, because we need to figure it out.

Cat: Love that.

[Music Playing]

You’ve been listening to Social Creatures with me, Cat Anderson. Many thanks to Michael for joining me today, and you can find all of the links to all of Ryanair’s socials in the description of this episode.

And of course, a special thank you to Sprout Social for making this podcast possible. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, make sure to let us know on social at Sprout Social, and subscribe to hear other episodes like this wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks very much for listening, and we’ll see you again in two weeks.