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Closing Wetherspoons’ social media accounts – madness or genius?

Tom Chapman
Tom
A publishing specialist skilled in getting clients noticed, Tom has been featured by several marketing publications and even by the BBC. He is always happy to discuss the future of marketing and journalism to anyone with questions.

April 24, 2018

5 minute read

social media

 

Last week, pub chain Wetherspoons used Twitter to announce it was quitting social media, closing their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. With more than 100,000 followers on Facebook and 44,000 on Twitter, why wouldn’t Wetherspoons want to communicate with their customers?  Social media is one of the main avenues of customer communication in the 21st Century, so how could such a move be justified?

Quite easily apparently.

In interviews with the BBC, Chairman Tim Martin appeared to give two main reasons for his decision:

  1. Public backlash against social media

Mr Martin stated on radio that if people “limited their social media to half an hour a day, they’d be mentally and physically better off”. Furthermore, the decision was reportedly influenced by bad publicity regarding the networks. For example, data misuse, potential addiction, and internet trolls.

  1. Social media didn’t work for Wetherspoons

According to Mr Martin, “We were also concerned that pub managers were being side-tracked from the real job of serving customers” by using social media for advertising. Moreover, at least 90% of Wetherspoons’ pub managers reportedly felt that these platforms were not beneficial for the business.

In my opinion, the decision to close social media accounts for the ‘greater good’ seems a little weak, seeing as people will still use social media regardless if Wetherspoons is active on these channels or not.

However, when it comes to poor returns, that sort of makes sense.

What could Wetherspoons have done differently?

When considering social media as an effective marketing tool, it’s extremely common to find a variety of conflicting statements and viewpoints. Our profession is no different. Indeed, strategies are often written off as ‘dead’ or not working as well as they used to.

Sometimes, this is indisputably true. Yet, in most of these situations, that person has just not been doing this strategy correctly. In the case of Wetherspoons, they could have improved their actions through social media by making a few alterations:

Employing a dedicated social media expert

Many of Wetherspoons’ estimated 900 pubs had their own separate Facebook pages. Mr Martin’s statement suggests the accounts were run by the managers themselves. These individuals were trained to keep pubs operational, not run a social media account.

Perhaps this is why the organisation’s actions on social media didn’t gather much attention. According to Marketing Week, the average tweet from Wetherspoons generated six retweets and four likes. To put this in perspective, the firm serves three million pints every week.

Clearly, social media wasn’t working as well as it could for the organisation. A dedicated social media expert could have turned this around.

Centralising accounts

Each pub having a dedicated Facebook page creates an operational nightmare, requiring a large team to keep updated. It might have been more beneficial for these accounts to centralise into one dedicated Wetherspoons feed.

This would have made social media much easier to manage and allowed staff to focus on serving customers. Furthermore, as many of the individual pub pages on Facebook had fewer than 1,000 likes, combining these into a central account would have increased followers – making social media posts more likely to be seen across newsfeeds.

 

Resolving poor reviews and bad press

Many of Wetherspoons’ individual pub pages on Facebook were dominated by poor reviews. Some of these discussing poor quality of service, problems with food, or complaints about staff. While this empowered the public, it didn’t do the chain any favours.

Based on this reason alone, shutting down social media accounts could be a wise move. Furthermore, the organisation has had to deal with a variety of ‘fake news’ online. For example, last year, a spoof account on Twitter claimed Wetherspoons staff had been prohibited from wearing Remembrance Day poppies.

Deciding on a social media strategy

While an expert would have ensured this, Wetherspoons did not seem to have a dedicated social media strategy in place. This would have revealed effective metrics to measure as well as the aims of using these networks. Instead, the organisation seemed to be largely using social media as an additional way to communicate with customers.

Will this decision backfire?

Shutting down Wetherspoons’ social media accounts was a brave business decision. However, given the levels of interaction which the organisation achieved online, it’s unlikely to lose customers. With a few changes though, their social media strategy could have been so much more.

Competitors should pay close attention to this choice and look to their own actions across the networks. Potentially, there could be an opportunity to prove just how effective a marketing tool for pubs these could be.

The real danger comes in the form of SEO. When Wetherspoons shuts down its social media accounts, it will create thousands of broken links. Assuming redirects aren’t implemented, savvy competitors could attempt to get these links pointing to them instead.

Furthermore, as we have already seen, hoax accounts could appear claiming to be Wetherspoons. Without a dedicated social media team, it will be difficult to police and combat these threats.

Regardless, these are all potential problems for Wetherspoons to sort out. It will take months to determine if deactivating social media worked for them.

Will more companies start to delete their social media channels?

Businesses and social media appear to, at times, have an increasingly antagonistic relationship. For example, Unilever threatened to withdraw their adverts from platforms such as Facebook due to the presence of extremist and illegal material.

Other incidents include Microsoft’s chatbot ‘Tay’ being taught racism and HMV’s social media team live-tweeting a mass firing.

However, social media can do a lot of good if managed properly. If Wetherspoons devoted more thought to this, their accounts could have performed much better. The right strategy in place could have been deeply beneficial – it would also have highlighted which networks work best for customer interaction.

This decision – much like Wetherspoons itself – has been a controversial one. Time will reveal if it was the right one.

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