In a world where almost every brand aspires to be a success on social media, pub operator JD Wetherspoon and its outspoken chairman have decided to ‘take a stand’ against the industry.
The company made the surprise decision to pull the plug on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts – an announcement which has ironically since gone viral online.
Wetherspoon cited reasons like the ‘misuse of data’, the ‘addictive nature of social media’ and the ‘online abuse of MPs’ as being the some of the main drivers behind its decision.
While a number of supporters have emerged, many are understandably questioning the company’s true motives, with some calling it naive.
Why, in an increasingly digital age, would a major business with 900 pubs across the UK decide to delete all evidence of a social media presence?
I applaud and wholeheartedly agree with JD Wetherspoon decision to close down their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. It’s a solid move that will save their teams stress and thousands of hours of time. More should follow suit and get off the social treadmill.
— Dan Brookman (@danbrookman) April 16, 2018
Chairman Tim Martin has made it clear that it wasn’t a publicity stunt, but rather that it was becoming “increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion”.
He also told BBC News that social media had become a “waste of time” for him and his pubs.
Of course, any social media or digital marketer worth their salt would probably beg to differ.
Becky Boyd of The Social Media Geek described the move as being “very short-sighted decision from a marketing perspective”.
“Tim Martin might be correct in thinking that it won’t immediately affect the business but it will do very little in the way of helping public perception of the pub chain,” she told BusinessCloud.
“Without a social presence, the company won’t have any way of dealing with complaints or controlling what is said about their brand. Their approach to social always seemed scattergun with not much of a strategy or an end-goal in mind.”
It’s difficult to disagree.
As many have pointed out since the announcement, Wetherspoon never succeeded in attracting a large online following or in keeping them sufficiently engaged.
As a business, if you’re not going to use social media platforms to inform, delight and engage your customers and fans in a sincere or entertaining way, then how many people are really going to miss you when you’re gone?
#JDWetherspoon have been hugely naive with their decision to delete their social media accounts. It seems the chairman has led the movement, on a personal opinion. They’ll suffer hugely with customer service as people will continue to complain via social and no one will answer.
— Dominic McGregor (@DominicMcGregor) April 16, 2018
Alex McCann, founder of social media marketing agency Altrincham HQ, believes the decision was one more likely driven by data than PR opportunity.
“They probably realised very few people were engaging with the content and therefore the ROI of social for the brand was low,” he said.
“When drilling down to the local level the staff simply didn’t have the resources or skill set to truly manage social media. Social media wasn’t at the heart of the job role so therefore it was something that was done when the manager had time.
McCann added that, with the right training and infrastructure, Wetherspoon’s social media “could have been brilliant”.
But as chairman Tim Martin bluntly put it in his statement: “I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever.”
While I do admire his confidence in the company’s ability to thrive without social media, it’s precisely that attitude that makes me think that the company’s heart was never in it in the first place.
The likes of Playboy and Tesla may have deleted their Facebook pages as an act of protest but the vast majority of brands wouldn’t dream of branding all social media a “waste of time”.
Whether or not the move will have a negative impact on Wetherspoon’s business, only time will tell but one thing is clear to me: if deleting your entire social media presence has absolutely no effect on your business then you’ve obviously been doing it wrong.