We’re not trolling. JD Wetherspoon has barred social media and closed down its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages with immediate effect.
If we’re to believe what chairman Tim Martin says, the move is motivated by social responsibility. The pub tycoon highlights the toxic nature of the content that appears on the platforms and the recent Cambridge Analytical data scandal as influencing the decision.
While Martin himself admits that the firm is going ‘against conventional wisdom’, he doesn't anticipate that it will have a negative effect on the business. So is this something that more companies should do?
What does social media bring to a business?
Social media has some undeniable uses. It’s a great way of getting attention for your brand, especially if you’re able to mobilise your online ‘fans’ for a spot of free marketing.
The other great strength of social media is for customer engagement. Twitter, Instagram and the rest give a company direct, instant and relatively cheap access to its customers, 24 hours a day. Clearly this has many benefits in terms of understanding customer needs, customer service and customer feedback.
Losing that is no small thing. But whether it’s a complex marketing ploy or a genuine protest, this is a point Wetherspoon’s can clearly afford to make. Its business model and brand is based on selling beer, food and atmosphere, not online conversation.
Everyone already knows what Wetherspoon’s is - you can barely walk 100 metres down a British high street without being reminded of it. The majority of its customer interaction is done over the bar and Martin already knows what his customers want - it’s usually pint sized or comes on a blue plate with a side of chips. Customers care much more about how much the beer costs, rather than whether they can tweet about it.
Indeed, the relatively modest size of its social media following suggests that its customers probably have higher priorities. Its Twitter page had 44,000 followers (there are 100,000 on Facebook) - to put that in perspective, other ‘national treasures’ including Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage have over 800,000 and 1.1 million respectively. Given that his company’s Twitter account hasn’t posted since early April, Martin’s decision doesn't seem that radical.
Horses for courses
If you’re a consumer products company or an online retailer or a freelance consultant, ditching social media is clearly not such a great idea. Even if it’s not that important to your marketing and customer service operations, it does seem rather foolhardy to dispose of a resource that that by definition increases your capability to speak with and listen to customers, especially after investing time and money into growing a following.
The only real arguments for doing so are that social is distracting you from more appropriate activities or that you genuinely believe it’s socially irresponsible to add to the nation’s Facebook addiction. In Wetherspoon’s case, some might suggest that it look closer to home first.
Only time will tell whether this was a smart move. It’s been great publicity in any case - at the time of writing JD Wetherspoon is trending on Twitter, although of course Martin is unlikely to care.
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