UK pub chain, JD Wetherspoon has used Twitter to deliver the news that it’s closing all social media accounts. This covers Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with immediate effect. I deliver my thoughts on the move in this short post.

What are their reasons for pulling Wetherspoons from social media?

1 – There’s been controversy around trolling of local MPs via their accounts

That’s clearly not good. A lack of control and policy around social media within the business? That’s possible when you have 900+ venues with their own social media accounts.

2 – They feel that society would be better off if the use of social media by people was reduced

Yes, we know there can be negatives around the overuse of social media for people. They’re concerned about the addictive nature of social.

What about booze and fatty foods?

3 – They’re concerned about the misuse of personal data

Cambridge Analytica Syndrome strikes again. Their customers have the choice of using social media and educating themselves around the use of their data. I don’t see this as a valid reason for their withdrawal.

4 – It can distract pub managers and staff from serving customers

Can’t argue with that. Please the customers you have in front of your first. Age-old wisdom!

Interesting reasons and views, but what about from a business perspective?

“We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business”

That’s the view of their Chairman, Tim Martin.  Some points to consider:

Their demographic

Are Wetherspoons’ drinkers or potential customers highly active on social? I’d wager that a large slice of their customers are in the 40+ bracket. A big user-base for Facebook and Twitter, sure, but are they influenced enough by social to decide whether to drink in a WS or not?

Large chunks of the younger demo are likely to want to be drinking in ‘trendier’ venues. Instagram and Snapchat are the platforms most likely to influence them.

Not good enough?

Is their target market just not social enough? Valid reason not be there. Or is it? I’ve heard that so often over the years, and rarely does it ring true. In most cases, the brand/business just aren’t making the best use of social media.

I literally can’t take a look to assess this, as the accounts are already gone. They’ve certainly made a big effort over the years, with accounts for the majority of venues.

I did find an amusing tweet, but from a customer. Like a lot of brands, the social activity often stems in the main from the public, not the official accounts.

Brand chatter and opinion

If they have no official presence, then they can’t be part of any discussion around their brand/business. Ignorance to that chatter isn’t particularly wise. Many people will (wrongly or rightly) take to social media to complain now as opposed to doing it at the time in a venue. Are they now missing a useful feedback loop?

Understanding of what social does for them

I’d wager that JD Wetherspoon didn’t have a clear grasp of what social was or wasn’t achieving for them. According to reports, they asked pub managers if they thought quitting social media would harm business, and 95% of them said no. What data was that based on?

I’m not saying the managers are wrong, however, it’s very hard to gauge the effect of social in a bricks and mortar environment, so how clear is their picture of likely effect?

The future

This mass-exodus from social media means that they’re going to have to take it on the chin and look a bit silly if they want to return in the future.

It’s a successful business

Let’s face it, with profits of £51 million, the chain is far from struggling and clearly know how to thrive at a time where the hospitality sector has struggled. Will this damage them? I’m not sure how we will ever know! Are they setting a precedent for other brands to leave social? I think not. They’re certainly getting a whack-load of publicity from the move!

Update on 17.04 – Tim Martin has has denied this is a stunt in an BBC News interview – “You would have to be completely off your rocker to do a publicity stunt … which banned the medium which is supposed to give you the most publicity.”

He has now put more weight around his opinion that it’s a ‘waste of time’ – “On a personal level many of us are fed up with social media and think it has got damaging effects and a lot of people are on it far far too much,” he said. “It doesn’t do them any good it doesn’t do the country any good.”

As I alluded to in the section titled ‘The future’ above, they will look a bit silly if they have to go back in the future and Martin has addressed that – “If I have to crawl back to Facebook my goodness me that will be a catastrophe. It is not impossible, you have to keep your options open in business. But if I do it – what humiliation”

This part really caught my eye – “In politics and business people vastly overestimate social media. I campaigned very vigorously for leave and I did it through writing articles, speaking to the press and the television. I think tweets and Facebook underestimate the intelligence of the public and it’s all a bit of marketing hype really.”

I’d imagine that social media sent a lot of traffic to his articles around Vote Leave! Another sign of a lack of understanding of the medium.

Further update – This tweet from Carole Cadwalladr at The Guardian is very interesting! Is this deletion designed to hide overspending on Vote Leave advertising?

I think this is a bold move, but ultimately, one that I feel could have benefitted from a change of approach, as opposed to wiping out their social media audience, voice and presence. Was their strategy fully considered? I’ll never know, but I’d hope so! Could they have centralised more of the activity, with lesser remit for the venues? Tighter control over the content and frequency? So many other ways to do this!  

What do you think of the move?

Header image via Shutterstock.

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