April 16, 2018Published by: Steph Bennett

Was Wetherspoon mad to call time on social media?

This morning, pub chain JD Wetherspoon closed all of its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, citing the negative effects of social media and as a way to cut costs, save time, and move their marketing focus to something more suitable to their target audience.

The company had more than 150,000 followers, but they were spread across 900 accounts, so the reality is that they weren’t being used to their full potential anyway. There wasn’t a need for a sub-account for each enterprise or venue, but it’s kicked off an interesting debate.

As the news filtered through and industry commentators gave their hot takes, three things that stood out for me were:

  1. It’s a great PR move!
    Not many companies (if any) have the guts to completely remove their social media presence. It could, though, be a good way to start afresh. If you’re trying to overhaul your social media strategy this is a rip-the-plaster-off tactic – quick and relatively painless, but the press coverage alone or the first tweet for the comeback, which I see as inevitable given the coverage and conversation that this has generated, will be profound. Wetherspoons’ traditional audience might not all be social media junkies, but the move is so radical and newsworthy that it has put the business in front of millions more people, just like the recent KFC chicken crisis, which the company managed to turn around through smart creative advertising. 
  2. What a time-saver
    Yes, the decision will have annoyed the more active users of those social media accounts, but it’s a bit like trying to renovate a house – if you knock it down and start from scratch, it’s a lot easier to build your dream house than it is trying to iron out the kinks and work around the issues one by one. And as JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has said, it’s going to be a huge time-saver for the company, putting bar managers back where they should be – behind the bar and serving customers. 
  3. Is the move part of a wider GDPR strategy?
    It’s worth noting that JD Wetherspoon also publicly announced last year that it had deleted its entire email database consisting of hundreds of thousands of customers. A legacy email database, which takes a lot of regular maintenance and carries the weight of checking and re-checking that your subscribers do still want to receive the email, is time, labour and cost-intensive. And with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) just around the corner, it may be a smart and calculated move to move everything on to the company’s own website and remove unnecessary burdens.  

There are a lot of risks, insights and information that will be lost from this move, but the benefits for an aging brand, which may be reaching for a new audience or even just smartening their overall marketing strategy, is a brave and intelligent one.

Do you need social media for your business in the modern age? Almost certainly, if you have the right strategy, content and community. But that’s not to say it’s right for every business. A job done well is a job that reaps rewards, no matter what the marketing channel.

At Battenhall we work with companies from around the world on their social media strategy and content looking at the suite of social media accounts associated to their brand and businesses. By conducting a social media audit incorporating channels, content, conversation and competitors, we analyse and assess the role that social media plays, the audience we want to reach for our clients, and the best way to optimise their brand, business and customer experience online.

JD Wetherspoon has retreated from social media (for now), but for most other companies it will continue to be an authentic, innovative and engaging form of direct marketing and communication, where consumers can build relationships with the brands they love.  

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