JD Wether­spoon closes down so­cial me­dia sites

Moral stand, PR stunt or tak­ing com­plaints out of the pub­lic do­main, clos­ing its so­cial me­dia pro­files is a brave strat­egy, writes So­phie Christie

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By So­phie Christie

PUB chain JD Wether­spoon deleted all of its so­cial me­dia pro­files yes­ter­day, with Tim Mar­tin, the chair­man, cit­ing the “cur­rent bad pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing the trolling of MPs and oth­ers” as one of the rea­sons be­hind the move.

The com­pany closed down its Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts, which had 44,000 and 100,000 fol­low­ers re­spec­tively, as well as its In­sta­gram feed, for all of its 900 pubs and head of­fice.

The boss of the Bri­tish dis­count pub chain said it was “go­ing against con­ven­tional wis­dom that these plat­forms are a vi­tal com­po­nent of a suc­cess­ful busi­ness”.

He and the com­pany’s pub man­agers do not be­lieve that clos­ing the ac­counts will have any af­fect on the busi­ness “what­so­ever”, he added.

I n2018, it is un­usual to find a busi­ness with­out a so­cial me­dia pres­ence, and JD Wether­spoon’s de­ci­sion yes­ter­day to delete its so­cial me­dia pro­files goes, as chair­man Tim Mar­tin sug­gested, “against con­ven­tional wis­dom that these plat­forms are a vi­tal com­po­nent of a suc­cess­ful busi­ness”.

The out­spo­ken pub boss, how­ever, said he did not be­lieve that clos­ing down the Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts, which had 44,000 and 100,000 fol­low­ers re­spec­tively, would have any af­fect on the busi­ness “what­so­ever”.

He added that re­cent con­cerns re­gard­ing the mis­use of per­sonal data fol­low­ing the Face­book scan­dal and the ad­dic­tive na­ture of so­cial me­dia had in­flu­enced its de­ci­sion, cit­ing the “cur­rent bad pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing the trolling of MPs and oth­ers” as one of the rea­sons be­hind the move.

Com­pa­nies use so­cial me­dia for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: ad­ver­tis­ing, cus­tomer en­gage­ment, brand aware­ness and loy­alty. It can prove to be a cost-ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing tool, as it al­lows them to bet­ter un­der­stand who their cus­tomers are through the use of so­cial lis­ten­ing tools.

Leanne For­shaw Jones, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant, be­lieves so­cial me­dia has evolved into an in­te­gral part of any busi­ness’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy, and that Wether­spoon, op­er­at­ing within the busi­ness-to-cus­tomer sphere, will strug­gle with­out a so­cial me­dia pres­ence. “Cus­tomers want to en­gage with brands on­line, be that to ex­press dis­con­tent in a pub­lic fo­rum, or to reach out with queries,” she says. “It’s an ex­pec­ta­tion of most con­sumers that they’ll be able to en­gage with brands that way.

“And when brands aren’t there to re­spond it can dent their rep­u­ta­tion. Whether you’re on so­cial or not, your cus­tomers are. And your cus­tomers can ex­er­cise their right to have a con­ver­sa­tion about you whether you’re lis­ten­ing in or not.”

With Twit­ter now used largely as a cus­tomer ser­vice chan­nel for brands, some ob­servers sus­pect that Wether­spoon’s de­ci­sion has more to do with tak­ing com­plaints out of the pub­lic do­main.

Si­mon Heyes, of mar­ket­ing agency 8 Mil­lion Sto­ries, says that the chain is “tak­ing back con­trol of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion they have with their au­di­ence and cus­tomers, through their news­let­ter, web­site and mo­bile app”.

“This closes down the two-way con­ver­sa­tion, and in­stead al­lows them to push con­tent out to their au­di­ence and cus­tomers, with­out reper­cus­sions that can be viewed in pub­lic,” he says.

Many ar­gue that In­sta­gram and Face­book of­fer more at­trac­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties for com­pa­nies, thanks to ad­ver­tis­ing deals that can be more cost-ef­fec­tive than tra­di­tional meth­ods such as tele­vi­sion and news­pa­per ad­ver­tis­ing. To­gether, the two so­cial me­dia plat­forms have al­most three bil­lion users, so the po­ten­tial reach for a busi­ness is huge.

Brands can mon­i­tor the suc­cess of their so­cial me­dia posts by analysing met­rics such as the num­ber of clicks through to their web­site, how many new cus­tomers a post has reached, or how many prod­ucts are sold.

Matt Phillips, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and founder of PPR Con­sult­ing, doesn’t be­lieve that so­cial me­dia is es­sen­tial for es­tab­lished brands that al­ready have a loyal cus­tomer base. “If mar­ket­ing is about rais­ing aware­ness of your brand, or try­ing to en­cour­age a di­rect sale at the point of pur­chase, what value does Wether­spoon get from be­ing on so­cial me­dia?” he asks.

“Most peo­ple know Wether­spoon, so I ex­pect it’s gained rel­a­tively lit­tle value from Face­book com­pared to main­stream me­dia like TV, news­pa­pers or bill­boards – proven chan­nels with trusted au­di­ences that are, pound for pound, more ef­fec­tive than so­cial me­dia in reach­ing a large au­di­ence.”

Marie Page, co-founder of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy The Digerati, says that for large com­pa­nies like Wether­spoon, so­cial me­dia is “a mas­sive time suck”. She says: “Man­ag­ing those chan­nels on that scale takes a bat­tal­ion of skilled staff, 24/7 at­ten­tion with the ma­jor­ity of the time spent fire­fight­ing com­plaints cor­po­rately that re­late to a lo­cal out­let.”

It should be noted that this is not the first time Wether­spoon has shunned dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. Last year it deleted its en­tire data­base of cus­tomer emails af­ter suf­fer­ing a data breach in 2015. It re­port­edly had some 656,000 cus­tomer de­tails at the time of the breach. It told cus­tomers last year that it would no longer use emails to pro­mote it­self, dub­bing the ap­proach “in­tru­sive”, and said it would post of­fers on its web­site in­stead.

There is also an­other sus­pi­cion: that Mar­tin, a man un­afraid to court pub­lic­ity, thinks his con­trar­ian stance will gen­er­ate a hand­ful of pos­i­tive head­lines. A vo­cal anti-EU campaigner, he has in the past printed beer mats pro­mot­ing a pro-Brexit agenda, and uses his com­pany’s quar­terly up­dates and blog to be­rate busi­ness groups, ri­val ex­ec­u­tives and jour­nal­ists he doesn’t agree with.

Wether­spoon is not the only com­pany to re­move it­self from a so­cial me­dia plat­form. As part of a call to #DeleteFace­book af­ter the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal, Play­boy de­ac­ti­vated its ac­count on the so­cial net­work, which had amassed around 25 mil­lion likes. Elon Musk also re­moved Face­book pages for Tesla and SpaceX.

PR agency Wild­fire notes that ev­ery month 100,000 peo­ple search “how to delete Face­book”, while 330,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to leave Twit­ter each month. Sep­a­rate data from the Pew Re­search Cen­tre show that so­cial me­dia user growth is plateau­ing across the big­gest plat­forms in the US – Face­book, Twit­ter, LinkedIn and Pin­ter­est – with In­sta­gram the only net­work reg­is­ter­ing user growth last year.

Nick Lee, pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at Warwick Busi­ness School, points out that com­pa­nies were pro­duc­tive for a long time be­fore so­cial me­dia, and many are very suc­cess­ful with­out it even now. While it can be a vi­tal part of a grow­ing busi­ness, it is by no means es­sen­tial. “Poor use of so­cial me­dia is prob­a­bly worse than none,” he says.

Cus­tomers en­joy jD Wether­spoon’s Royal Vic­to­ria Pav­il­ion in Rams­gate, Kent. While they may check their so­cial me­dia dur­ing their visit, the bar chain will not be do­ing like­wise

Wether­spoons calls time on so­cial me­dia while Tesla ex­its Face­book

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