When pub chain JD Wetherspoon recently announced its decision to shut down all of its social media channels – including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – with immediate effect, it raised eyebrows, not least from those who understand how a presence on those platforms can add value to a business, if they are used strategically.
Chairman Tim Martin said, in a now deleted tweet, “We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business,” adding that the managers of its 900 pub branches agreed with him. He later told a journalist that, “On a commercial basis, it saves people in the company time and that will enable them to get on with their own jobs.”
There are a few puzzling things about this decision. Firstly, Wetherspoons had more than 44,000 Twitter followers and more than 100,000 followers on Facebook. Clearly, there was an interest from customers in having social media engagement with the brand. However, interactions on these platforms were very moderate, with many posts receiving only a handful of likes. For a big company with so many followers, such a low level of engagement should have raised a red flag indicating that it hadn’t mastered the art of delivering relevant content to its followers which truly engaged them. The demand was there, but the social media strategy clearly wasn’t. Businesses need to have a clear idea of who they are targeting, what they want to say and how best to convey that message. If The Museum of English Rural Life can achieve nearly 107,000 likes (and counting) with its perfectly judged tweet about a ram, then Wetherspoons really needed to be thinking more creatively and aiming for far higher levels of engagement, adjusting the strategy if it wasn’t appearing to work.
The second puzzling thing was Mr Martin’s idea that social media was preventing pub managers from doing their jobs. A business with 900 pubs and a corresponding number of Twitter accounts should certainly expect employees to join in with liking, sharing and commenting, but it shouldn’t have been solely down to them. In fact, Wetherspoons had a social media team to do the bulk of the work – which should be the case for a major brand – so it seems that there was no clear plan for who would contribute which content. All businesses, large and small, need to draw up short, medium and long terms strategies for how they will use social media and employees should all know the role that they are to play.
The final puzzle is Wetherspoons’ notion that a modern brand can somehow have no social media presence and not be adversely affected. Social media works by taking a business beyond the physical space that it occupies, so that it can engage with people regardless of where they are – in Wetherspoons’ case, so it could interact with people who weren’t actually sitting inside one of its pubs. Any service industry business needs to be able to respond to questions, comments, suggestions and complaints. Now that Wetherspoons is no longer on social media, those customer needs won’t go away but the business has lost a fast and efficient way of responding to them. Instead, the complaints will carry on, the suggestions that could improve the way the business operates will continue to be made, but Wetherspoons will be unable to see them and respond.
So, it is vital in our technological age that businesses see social media as an extension of customer services and a way to extend the reach of their brand and its message. Limiting the ways in which customers and clients can interact with you is short-sighted. Only time will tell if Wetherspoons will reverse its decision.
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Author: Helen Edmundson