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
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
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