Amid a massive flurry of publicity, pub chain JD Wetherspoons announced today that it is closing all of its social media accounts with immediate effect. The specific reason was unclear, but could be one of trolling, data concerns or the addictive nature of social media depending on where you read.
The ensuing media frenzy sparked lots of questions about the business value of social media and whether in 2018 companies can get by without it. I was invited onto both BBC Breakfast News and the ITV Evening News to talk about the company’s decision, so the issue was clearly high on the agenda.
My view is that Wetherspoons’ quitting its entire social media estate of some 900 profiles across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is at best illogical and at worst bizarre and petty.
Wetherspoons Chairman Tim Martin said he took the decision after becoming increasingly concerned by increasing reports of MPs and public figures being targeted by trolls and following the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal. He also expressed a view that there is an unhealthy “compulsion” among social media users to spend too much time on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
It’s hard to disagree with him on that front.
But he also said that Wetherspoons’ staff were spending an increasing amount of time dealing with social media messages and that he was not convinced that being on social media sites brought any commercial benefit to the business.
And that, my friends, is where my empathy and agreement with Mr Martin ends. He is missing the point by a country mile. People spend too long on social media…so we’ll stop using social media. Huh?
The Commercial Value of Social Media
One of my first clients after I established myself as an independent digital marketing consultant was one of the largest brewing and pub chains in the UK, Greene King. (Disclosure: I worked on this client as part of a retained contract with Popcorn PR.) I worked with Greene King for nearly two years.
When I first encountered the organisation’s use of of social media it was, like Wetherspoons, difficult to identify a discernible value. Posts were largely either self-promotional guff or responses to customers hacked off because their burger wasn’t delivered quickly enough when they visited The Red Lion the other day. Growth was stagnant. It was a sea of negativity and corporate rubbish.
My first job was to wade through all of that and pick out the seeds of positivity. Of which, it has to be said, there weren’t many. But I put the work in and devised a strategy that put the emphasis back on the customer and nipped any negativity in the bud.
What I didn’t do was throw my toys out of the pram and suggest they just shut down all of their social media profiles because it was too much like hard work to prove commercial value.
Within a couple of months the tone of those profiles had turned completely around and the accounts were growing in size. The self-promotional ‘come and have a pint’ messages were replaced with information that was genuinely interesting to their customers. And while negative comments did still appear of course, the way they were dealt with brought a new positivity to the profiles and painted the brand in a new light.
Customer Service Will Suffer
For me, Wetherspoons has cut off its nose to spite its face with this ridiculous decision. It’s difficult to say whether the lack of social media profiles will affect the company as there are other factors at play.
For example, the pub trade in general has been in decline for a number of years as the off-trade continues to grow. We now buy more alcohol to drink at home than we do in the pub. And what do we do at home while consuming beer and wine? We spend time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For this reason, Mr Martin has in the past laid at least part of the blame for declining pub traffic at the feet of Facebook.
Sounds a bit like sour grapes now, doesn’t it? And how do you pick apart the lack of a social media presence from what’s already an industry in decline?
But what’s not difficult to say is that not having Facebook Pages and Twitter profiles is going to make customer service a whole lot more difficult for Wetherspoons. I know from my Greene King days that the first place people turn when they have an issue with a pub is social media. And just because you’re not there doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
The difference is that Wetherspoons will no longer be able to deal with those issues. It may not even see them. And what that says to me is that Wetherspoons is a company that would rather just not have to listen to customer complaints.
Lack of Strategy
If Wetherspoons was not seeing any value in social media it was because it wasn’t using it well. 900 social media profiles?! That’s insane! As I believe someone once said: “Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!”
And all the chain did was pump out self-promotional messages that no-one wanted to hear. It’s no wonder engagement was low. In 2018, social media users really do not care about what you have to say about you. What they do care about is you adding value to their lives.
Its strategy was non-existent!
Most of the brands I work with come to me with one big question: “We’re not seeing any value in what we’re doing so how do we make this work for us?” And I could give you plenty of examples of both proving and increasing ROI from social media marketing.
So instead of quitting social media, maybe Mr Martin should have taken a long, hard look about how to best utilise it. Maybe he should have employed someone who knew what they were doing and taken some professional advice.
As it stands though, the less mindless drivel that’s posted on the internet, the better. So from that perspective, good riddance Wetherspoons.