This large company just quit social media. Should you?

quit social media

By Mark Schaefer

There was a bit of a brouhaha on the social web last week when a major restaurant chain in the UK announced it had quit social media.

J D Wetherspoon is a pub company in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Founded in 1979, the company owns about 1,000 outlets, including bars and hotels.

I was asked to comment on this development and because I am a full-service blogger at your service, I am happy to oblige.

What happened with this company, and what does this mean for social media marketing?

Trouble brewing

Wetherspoon chairman and founder Tim Martin told the BBC he had always thought the idea that social media was essential for advertising was untrue. “We were concerned that pub managers were being side-tracked from the real job of serving customers,” he said. “I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever.”

Martin said that he had consulted with 15 of his pub managers before making the move, and “90-to-95% felt using social media was not helping the business”.

He also said the decision had been influenced by concerns regarding the “misuse of personal data” and “the addictive nature of social media.”

“The people who are on it wish their friends were off of it because they’re addicted to it,” Martin said.

The pub chain had more than 100,000 Facebook followers and more than 6,000 on Instagram — relatively small totals for a company of its size.

Asked whether Wetherspoon’s move could start a business trend, Martin told the BBC that he hoped not: “Currently we’ve got a massive commercial advantage because everyone else is wasting hours of their time.”

Did they make a mistake?

Several analysts and bloggers turned to me for an opinion, expecting me to say they made a mistake. I don’t think we can necessarily assume that, for these reasons.

  1. First, we don’t really know the details of this business. This entrepreneur built up a chain of 1,000 pubs. He knows what he’s doing. It would be arrogant to judge him as wrong without living inside his business.
  2. His concern that managers are wasting time on social media could be a valid. I have heard the same complaint about employee abuse of social media from many progressive companies, including Whole Foods.
  3. Many European companies are stuggling with the cost and complexity of the GDPR regulations. Maybe he just decided to avoid that cost and headache.
  4. The goal of marketing is to build an emotional connection with an audience in a manner that creates business benefits. Are there other ways for a pub to do that besides social media? Of course there are.

Wetherspoon is a well-known brand in the UK and a prosperous company. Social media didn’t create that success in the first place, and a decision to quit social media will not destroy this great business.

But wait …

Having said all that in defense of the company, my instinct is that they indeed made a mistake, and this view has also been reflected by many analysts familiar with the chain. The general belief was that the company had too many accounts, they were poorly managed and management lacked a fundamental understanding of what was going on.

Analysis by BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones: “The pub chain has certainly put plenty of effort into social media until now, with hundreds of different Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. But the truth is that none had won much of a mass following – and those who ran the accounts were not doing a very good job.”

Another factor is that the company founder has had some very polarizing political views which were being hashed about on the social web.

Reading the news about this event, a few things stood out for me.

  1. The CEO did not take a very methodical path to making a decision. He spoke to 15 pub mangers for an opinion — out of 1,000 locations. And I mean, if the Chairman calls you and asks if you agree that Facebook is a waste of time … how are you going to respond?
  2. Another indicator that this was not a very professional decision is that in every interview he rails about the dangers of social media addiction. It seems like this is an emotional issue to him, not necessarily a practical business decision. I found his comments bizarre. Why is a person who made a fortune plying people with alcohol hung up on social media as an addiction?
  3. I would have felt more confident in his decision if he said he had brought in an expert advisor to consult with him on the matter, which led to a decision. But this seemed to be a decision from his gut and when you are cutting off connections to the biggest media channel in the history of the world, you better have sound logic behind it.

Aftermath

Is this the wrong decision? Who knows. One thing for sure, it will have no impact on their bottom line because the social media was so poorly managed that it never had an impact any way.

A decision to quit social media may not impact sales, but will it have an affect on customer service? Isn’t it smart to be part of the conversation when people are talking about you on social media? Do they have a true sense of the business value when they seemed to understand it so poorly? How can competitors capitalize on this?

I do think this was an emotional decision, not a practical one founded on research and business logic. Before he made the decision, it would have been fun to have received a call from him: “Mark, we are thinking about going off social media. I’ll give you one year to work with our pubs to convince me otherwise.”

You know … I could have done it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Unsplash.com

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