Forget the Facebook Congressional Hearings, this week the UK media focused on another social media scandal, as JD Wetherspoons announced it would be quitting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with immediate effect.
The world gasped! Marketers recoiled! How could one of Britain’s largest pub companies manage without these platforms? Why would a company do such a thing?
The reason, apparently, is that Chairman Tim Martin thinks that society would be better off if people didn’t use social media as much. He cited the increasing amount of time staff were spending on social media (the company has hundreds of accounts, held by the 900 individual pubs in the group as well as head office), and referred to the increasing amount of trolling they were receiving.
Tim has been quoted a fair bit on this, as the story has generated coverage across the national media, being viewed by millions of people. It’s ironically also been trending on Twitter, not that Wetherspoons would care, of course.
Packing up all your social media channels is a bold move – no other major UK company has made such a statement – but at first, in the short term at least, you can kind of see Tim’s point.
A social media presence can be a vital tool in a company’s marketing strategy, but it has to be used in the right way. The right target audience needs to be engaged, on the right social channels, with messages that appeal to them if you’re going to get anywhere with social media.
Maybe Tim felt that getting back to the good old days of talking face to face was more on brand with his pubs, and we have to agree. The company has managed alright so far without the largest of followings on social media, and often with very little engagement. A quick search across a few of its pubs doesn’t show masses of RTs or responses – more often it brings up an old viral thread which showed that it once took five years to respond to one complaint on Twitter.
— The Poke (@ThePoke) April 16, 2018
Perhaps the recent #quitfacebook backlash has made the company rethink its marketing strategy, and have a good clear out before the new GDPR rules come into force, simply using ‘real social interaction’ as a foil. The PR team at Wetherspoons has certainly made the move work well, generating reams of coverage with some really positive messages that may sit very nicely with a lot of the chain’s older consumers.
But what of the younger ones? And the landlords who wanted to keep their social media going? Apparently all the individual pubs were consulted before this move and they agreed – although Bishops Blaize, one of Old Trafford’s big footy pubs down the road, didn’t seem to thrilled in its farewell tweet, with words like ‘disappointed’ and tearful emojis.
From a corporate group point of view, social media may not be needed. And for many of the 900+ Wetherspoons pubs around the UK, the customers might not give two hoots about whether you can tag a friend in a selfie and win a free portion of chips, as long as the ale flows and the place opens on time.
But for some of the pubs, social media may have been working really well. It could have been opening up their establishment to a new, younger audience; helping to promote themed nights, or simply advising about new menus. It may have been keeping the place in the eyes of the increasingly varied consumer as drinking habits shift and communities change.
Perhaps the issue doesn’t solely lie with social media not being the right fit for the company. The small followings and low engagement may be a result of a lack of social media strategy or the tools perhaps not being used in the right way or to their full potential? The decision may prove to be the right one, but maybe a review of the way they were used might have been a step to take first, to see how they could help work towards achieving the companies vision and ambitions.
It’s definitely a bold move Tim – and a great PR story. Longterm though, we’ll just have to wait and see.