March 21, 2019

Is JD Wetherspoon’s decision to quit social media the right one?

The decision by  JD Wetherspoon to quit Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has certainly raised more than a few eyebrows, with the pub chain blaming bad publicity surrounding ‘trolling’ of MPs as one of its reasons for abandoning social media altogether.

So is it the right move? Nick Lee, Professor of Marketing at Warwick Business School, is prepared to give the company the benefit of the doubt. “This is an interesting move from Wetherspoons, and it can be viewed in a number of different ways,” explains Nick. “On the one hand, in the grandest sense, one might wonder if this signals the beginning of a general backlash against social media by big brands.

“If this is a decision made by Wetherspoons in light of a detailed study of the return on investment in social media, which found that the time they spent on it was not justified by positive results, then I can only applaud them for being courageous enough to admit that, and hope that their move might inspire more companies to really address the return they get from social media investments.

“Of course, on the other hand, this could be a cost-cutting exercise dressed up as a social statement, hoping to capture what seems to be the mood of the times. Or, it could be in itself a brand-building exercise, hoping to position Wetherspoons as a brand that ‘cares’ about the impact of social media in today’s society. That would be an interesting and courageous place to be for Wetherspoons.

“Whatever the motivation, this decision certainly should encourage all brands who use social media to interrogate the benefits they really get from social channels. Are they really providing a strategic benefit to the firm, or are they only doing it because ‘everyone else is’?

“Perhaps now, when the public is beginning to question whether social media is an unambiguous benefit, is the time for firms to really think about the real value of their social media investments?”

Evgeny Chereshnev, CEO and founder of Biolink.Tech, also believes that there may be wisdom behind JD Wetherspoon’s decision: “One of today’s modern misconceptions is that social media (SM) is essential for business. The truth is, most companies totally mix cause and effect; they invest lots of money in SM as if those channels were a business goal in itself, but in reality SM is just a tool for talking and listening to your clients. Is social media the only way to perform those two tasks? Definitely not. There are numerous examples of companies being weak or absent across social media and still remaining insanely successful at the same time. Apple, for example, has never run contests or produced a huge amount of content for Facebook and it is still able to sell billions of devices. Same with Google, Tesla or SpaceX…and the list goes on.

“The reason for such behaviour is very simple to explain: Most companies prefer to talk (whilst not really having anything important or valuable to say). As a result, a huge amount of content is being produced every day by tens of thousands of Facebook business pages and, in most cases, this is a total waste of money and time. Seriously – every human being has a cap on how much information he or she a) can handle during the day b) wants to read to start with! Most content produced by businesses is never even read. Even when you as a company seem to have likes and shares for a promoted post, those are often just bots. The truth is , when you are a company that has something truly unique and valuable to say, people will always find a way to get in touch with you. They either will come to your blog or get information from a traditional source like a well-known and trusted media outlet. On the SM front, people may subscribe to a CEO’s private channels, which is way more credible. If a CEO puts their name on something, they rarely put out bad content so as not to be associated with it! Elon Musk’s account is a pretty good illustration of my point.

“Put simply, organisations need to have the guts to cut all the BS from their working and communication strategy. Every time a company wants to say something, they should ask themselves whether this content has real value for the readers (not the company’s PR department!). Then businesses have to remember that at the end of the day it’s not about them, but about people. Focus on the quality of the product, do not lie, do not have hidden fees, reply to your clients on your website, blog or mobile app to show that you care. So, focus on what you do and how you do it; not where.

“The way most companies run SM is a total waste of time and money. They post content that has zero value to the readers, produced by the teams who do not care about hitting the right MBOs. But, don’t get me wrong, SM can be a very productive activity for business. But unfortunately creativity is not scalable. Great SM managers and leaders are a rare breed, but a lot of them get exhausted over time and stop being quite so great. The SM ecosystem is actually a very complex thing to set up and maintain, and there is literally only a handful of people who can lead global SM teams effectively. That’s why most of the SM activities are compensated with paid ads. Content quality is irrelevant; when you pay Facebook, you’ll get your views, but are those views good for business? In most cases the value is close to zero.

“Is Instagram popular by being active in Instagram itself?  Is Tesla’s $50bn valuation the result of having an amazing Facebook page? Are people eating McDonald’s food because they do an amazing job promoting themselves via YouTube? The answer is no. Even with no SM channels, or limited activity on SM channels, every business can be popular. All it needs is the right digital strategy based on true values, not tools of execution.”

On the other hand, Erin Simons, head of social media at leading ecommerce and digital agency Visualsoft, which works with over 1,000 retailers to improve their online marketing, feels Wetherspoons has taken something of a wrong turn with its decision. “Social media provides an invaluable way for retailers to engage – and build stronger relationships with – customers, so JD Wetherspoon’s decision to shut its accounts in order to better serve its customers seems strange,” says Erin. “Clearly, the pub chain’s social strategy has been scattered; with hundreds of different brand accounts vying for the attentions of a similar audience. However, to completely disregard the potential of social media to drive traffic, conversation and engagement around your offering is extremely unwise, and something we would not recommend to any brand.”

Whether JD Wetherspoon has made the right decision or ends up returning to social media in the future remains to be seen. However, in the short term it will be interesting to see if other major brands decide to follow its lead.