News broke on Monday that UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon will be shutting down their social media accounts due to their view on the current ‘climate’ of social media and the addictive nature of the platforms.
The company, that owns nearly 900 pubs across the UK, has made the decision to deactivate all of the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of each of their establishments, as well as their head office, to dispel and discourage trolling of MPs and ethnic minorities online.
JD Wetherspoons has suggested that such activity doesn’t take place on their social accounts, which has left some wondering if there is more to this than meets the eye. As many companies, especially those that are as well-known and widely available as JD Wetherspoon, rely heavily on social media for important business functions like customer service, updating followers with news and information, and customer feedback/reviews, it could be argued that this is a drastic measure to tackle something that doesn’t seem to directly affect the company.
On the other hand, could it genuinely save the company money, or make sense to take a step back from social media platforms, amidst controversy surrounding customer data? JD Wetherspoon famously deleted its email database in 2017, amidst nervousness about the forthcoming enforcement of the GDPR.
Spoons and Tim Martin seem to be making a lot of self-righteous noise to justify closing their social media accounts, but honestly reckon this is another cost-cutting move from a businessman who’s always been a believer in marginal gains.
— Clement Murphy (@ClemMurphy) April 16, 2018
To make some more sense of all of this, we reached out to some social media experts for their take on the announcement.
This is all about budget and brand
“I think that this is a budgetary decision and the ‘bad publicity surrounding social media” is a convenient smokescreen. The value of social media as a channel for PR acquisition and retention purposes will have been reviewed with a critical, cost-conscious eye.
“Maintaining Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts and handling customer service issues requires significant resource. A Tumblr dedicated to Wetherspoon’s carpets is a lot of fun, but it hasn’t made me take my family for a Sunday Roast to admire the Axminster.
“’Spoons is a 40 year old brand. Everyone in the UK knows exactly who they are and what they offer – value, convenience, consistency, unpretentiousness. You either love them, or will never be a customer.
“Social media won’t drive price-sensitive students in droves to their pubs – they are already in there, along with families enjoying a cheap meal out, businesspeople eating full English Breakfasts and the traditional British pub clientele.”
Will Francis, Founder & Creative Director, VANDAL:
“A really interesting move from a well-known brand. Some are claiming it’s a publicity stunt, and others that it’s to get away from post-Brexit criticism (the chairman Tim Martin was a prominent Vote Leave supporter) not to mention the vast multitude of bad reviews of their pubs. I think it’s probably all those things, but ultimately in saying “I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever” (quoted from a now-unavailable tweet) Martin is mostly right. A 900-outlet food and beverages brand will always struggle to make meaningful use of social, without heavy investment and best practice down to local level.”
Social media is hard…
Joanna Halton, Founder at Jo & Co. and digital marketing lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University:
“The statement they gave seemed woolly and slightly bizarre, mentioning the general social media climate, MP trolling and concerns around the addictive nature of the platforms themselves. Slightly odd from a company that serves alcohol from 9am.
“What else could be the motivation? It appears that Wetherspoons had accounts for nearly all their 900 pubs, as well as their central accounts. Many of the individual pages had fewer than 1,000 likes and were unlikely to be seen in users’ feeds. To maintain content, keep relevancy and police that many accounts would be an immense drain on resource. Without a proper strategy in place, it’s improbable that the potential benefits of the channels are outweighing the negatives.”
[Social success] for me would mean messaging from the brand on the level of someone like Nando’s where you’re seeing great, engaging and fun content marketing that genuinely builds and retains an audience; complemented by branch-level accounts that engage directly with that outlet’s local community but remain true to the brand (wittily-written, beautiful imagery) as Waterstones do. If they can’t do that they’re just drowning in trolls, poorly maintained pages and bad reviews. After all, today’s digital landscape – saturated, splintered, algorithmic – is not kind to anything other than brilliantly executed marketing.
…but social conversation will continue regardless
Depesh Mandalia, Founder & CEO, SM Commerce:
“As a bricks and mortar establishment, will JD Wetherspoon suffer from being away from social media? Maybe not as much as many businesses that have a high percentage of sales driven by social media platforms but there may be a knock-on impact at a local level.
“In addition, what will happen is that those that wish to continue the conversation, good or bad about JD Wetherspoon will spin off into their own profiles or groups. Are they likely to download the app or email them through the website? Looking through Facebook for example, each of their locations has a page set up, with ratings and reviews, opening times, menus and special offers with a good number of followers for each location. Social media is a far easier medium for people to converse with the brands they love [than a website or app].”
‘Spoons would rather deal with customer service in situ…
“When it comes to customer service, I imagine that they would prefer to deal with any complaints or issues in situ rather than in social media, where a central team would have to speak to venue managers to understand and resolve or rebutt many of the issues.
“Various polarising political issues and the “bad publicity surrounding social media” will have been factored in. Chairman and founder, Tim Martin maintains a very public position on Brexit and I’m sure the corporate communications team has had to handle a number of negative/trolling comments, but I doubt that this was the single deciding factor.
“I’d be surprised if they don’t keep a single corporate PR presence on Twitter in place at the very least, publishing corporate news but not responding to tweets/enquiries.”
…but no other tool is as good at a local level
“Whilst much of the local information is already covered in places like Tripadvisor and Google, what’s going to change is that they won’t be able to own the narrative as they could on Twitter and Facebook, which have allow them to connect better at a local level. How else will Sirhowy JD Wetherspoon Blackwood get the message out about Chicken Club as easily as they could with Facebook or Twitter?
“Combine that with their deleting every single customer email, it’s a marketers nightmare – to cut off key digital communication with loyal customers and rely solely on the mobile app, inbound emails, local flyers and word of mouth. I’m not sure deleting all emails and social profiles is the most beneficial growth decision they could have made, even if their intent is noble. Nobility and business growth don’t always go hand in hand.”
“A bit of online research suggests that Wetherspoons have been receiving a number of negative reviews and comments across their social properties. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever worked in the service industry on social media. However, by deleting their accounts, Wetherspoons have lost their only mechanism to publicly address and resolve these claims. Without an outlet, these types of comments tend to have a nasty habit of leaking onto other properties like Yelp or Google reviews.”
Social has actually generated some good PR for ‘Spoons lately
“One of the biggest shames about this move is that other businesses, which could really thrive on these platforms, might now see this as evidence that they shouldn’t use it.
“Aside from this, it is amusing that they’ve chosen to delete their social accounts when Wetherspoons have been getting quite a bit of attention (and likely money!) from social lately, particularly Twitter, due to their app. Famous cases have led others to share their table number and location in an attempt to garner beverage and food gifts from other benevolent social media and Wetherspoon app users. Who could forget those infamous four gravy boats of peas?!
“Whatever the rationale, it’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out. Who else is thinking there could be a very public social media re-launch in a month or two…?”
This is a pivotal time for social media platforms
Greg Allum, Head of Social, Jellyfish:
“These are interesting times for social as companies wrestle with the potential societal impact of social media channels. It is reminiscent of the gaming industry in the 90s, which came under fire for negatively influencing individuals. As with the gaming industry, social media platforms are undergoing a deep analysis of their purpose, principles and value. This is a positive move in the mid-long term, as it will allow these platforms that have grown rapidly to re-assess their approach to audience data, which is much needed.
“The power of social media continues to drive value for a majority of brands, and will continue to do so in its current guise. At best, social media, in particular Facebook, can target audiences at scale and reach them with content that resonates, whilst allowing us to measure the impact of this effectively. At worst, brands can target audiences at scale with poorly crafted content that interrupts and weakens a user’s experience, whilst potentially damaging their reputation.”