The curious case of Wetherspoon’s social shutdown

British pub chain JD Wetherspoon shut down all of its 900+ pub’s social media profiles this week, with the chairman, Tim Martin, citing a variety of reasons.

Apart from his general opinion that people spend too much time on social media, and that it was being used to troll MPs, the chairman expressed concerns over misuse of people’s personal data. He also expressed doubts that social media was vital to running a successful business.

Speaking to City AM, Martin said that the decision stemmed from the 2015 hack of its customer database. The breach saw 657,000 customer records stolen, and in the aftermath, the chain decided to delete its entire customer database and stop collecting information on customers. If no data’s collected, there would be no risk to personal data.

According to Martin, this had little impact on Wetherspoon’s business, and prompted them to ask pub managers if they thought social media had any impact on their business. After this consultation, the chain decided to simply take social media out of the equation.

Politically problematic

Wetherspoon has also had issues with fake accounts. In 2017 one account tweeted that Wetherspoon wouldn’t be allowing its staff to wear poppies to mark Remembrance Day, due to its multicultural customer base – this caused a backlash on social media which the brand had to deal with.

People are also using social media to call for a boycott of the pub chain due to its chairman’s support of Brexit. People are also wondering whether the sudden decision to delete its social media accounts may have something to do with the brand’s support of the vote leave campaign and the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

There’s also the cheeky take-over of the official twitter account just as the shutdown was announced (someone clearly doesn’t like the chairman’s politics).

Regardless of the speculation, Wetherspoon has given clear reasons for leaving social media – but are they the right ones?

Social media can be a waste of time – if you don’t have the right strategy

Wetherspoon may think that social media isn’t vital for business success and that it’s simply a waste of time, but what the pubs are really saying is that they feel like they’re putting in a lot of effort on social media content and getting no results. This will be either because they didn’t have a social media strategy, or they had the wrong strategy.

Being on social media is pointless for brands if they’re only there because it’s what everyone else is doing. Why be on social media? Who is the brand trying to reach? What result do they want? Does the content they post motivate people to act?

The brand needs to know what went wrong here. If it posted pointless content on social media, what makes it think the content it posts on its own platforms will be any more inspirational?

Brands can’t dictate their customer’s social media use

https://twitter.com/Waterstones/status/985806176834260992

Wetherspoon’s chairman may believe that people spend too much time on social media, but his opinion doesn’t matter.

Customers will still use social media. They’ll still discuss the brand. Withdrawing from social media because you don’t like it is the equivalent of me hiding my face behind a cushion during an Alien film. The movie still plays, the characters still get eviscerated (okay perhaps the metaphor has gone too far, but you get the gist).

It might be possible to keep an eye on the brand’s social media reputation and not actively participate, but any brand that does this is putting itself at a disadvantage against competitors that do social media well. These brands use social media to develop relationships with their customer communities that helps them maintain good will during a crisis. They can even use social media to stop a developing crisis in its tracks. Wetherspoon has lost this advantage.

 

While some business leaders may not like certain aspects of social media or understand its benefits (and risks), it remains a major communications platform. People used social media before brands got involved and they’ll continue to use social media until they decide to move on.

They won’t stop talking about brands, and it’s doubtful that many will remember (or care enough) to become regular website visitors of those brands who abandon their social presences. Before making this decision, the brand needs to decide if it’s prepared to lose touch with customers and create barriers to engagement that could damage the brand in the long run.

Featured image by Maia Habegger on Unsplash

Gemma is Polpeo’s Content Specialist. She develops the crisis storylines and writes social content for Polpeo. She is the principal voice of Polpeo on Twitter, and blogs on PR Examples and carrotcomms.co.uk/blog.

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