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JD Wetherspoon and the social media exodus of 2018

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JD Wetherspoon – the home of cheap beers, all-day menus and notoriously wacky carpets. The pub giant is all over the news today following the announcement that it will be closing all of its social media channels with immediate effect. Digital Marketing Communications Manager Catie outlines why decision makers should think twice before making this exodus of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram a permanent move.

Everyone has fond (or not so fond) associations with their local ‘Spoons’. Whether your local is one of the tired and outdated bars or one of the newer and trendier pubs, we can all agree that its business model works. Quick, value food with multi-generational appeal – visit during the day and you’ll see retired folk with their full English breakfasts and cups of tea, or young parents making the most of the child-friendly menu and usually spacious gardens.

At the evenings and weekends, however, it’s packed with 18-30-year-olds in hordes, sipping cocktail pitchers and lining their stomachs before a night out – or if you’re in a small town like where I’m from, the new Spoons is the night out and Instagram stories on a Saturday morning are littered with Boomerangs and filtered selfies in the cavernous ladies’ bathroom areas.

JD Wetherspoon is no stranger to digital, with its Order & Pay app revolutionising our pub dining experiences. Who wants to queue at a bar when you can stay chatting at the table and have everything handed to you on a plate, literally? So why has it made the decision for its head office and 900 pubs to remove themselves from social media?

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: ‘We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business. I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers’.

Let me stop you there, Tim. While he’s probably right in the sense that a key objective for Wetherspoon’s social media channels wasn’t to drive footfall into the already popular pubs, there’s much more to it than sales and advertising. What about customer service and community management?

All brands rely on people to purchase their goods and services, whether that’s in a B2B or a B2C environment. With 2.46 billion people using social media (as reported by Statista in 2017) – more than 2 billion on Facebook, 800 million on Instagram and 330 million on Twitter – there’s really no good reason for a brand not to be using social media in some form or another to communicate with its audiences.

Tim continued: ‘It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion. We will still be as vocal as ever through our Wetherspoon News magazine, as well as keeping the press updated at all times. We will also be maintaining our website and the Wetherspoon app and encourage customers to get in touch with us via our website or by speaking with the manager at their local pub’.

In 2018, and with Twitter widely recognised as the place to go for quick customer service, is it good enough to expect people to visit their local pub and speak with the manager or to get in touch via the website? We’ve tried to do this, and it involves a fairly lengthy contact form.

Fair enough – it’ll dissuade people from making petty, trivial complaints that social media managers spend hours wading through, but it’s never a good idea to make life more difficult for customers. We’re not talking about a small independently run bar here, and Wetherspoon’s is big and profitable enough that it can and should invest in non-revenue-generating customer care.

Social media is here to stay and it will take a societal overhaul to change that, not a pub chain quitting the platforms. Rethinking the way it’s used is a great idea and akin to Mark Zuckerberg’s news earlier this year that Facebook will be focussing on ‘meaningful’ interactions, how could Wetherspoon's support that?

Rather than filling users’ timelines with adverts and sales messaging, why not use Twitter as a customer support platform to identify issues and improve its overall service? Why not use Facebook to foster local communities surrounding pubs, announce new pub openings (rather than expecting people to pick up a copy of Wetherspoon News) and promote charity initiatives taking place? Why not use Instagram to bring together customers posting about their experience?

Pubs are social businesses. Their whole purpose is for people to connect with each other over food and drink, and this decision does nothing except detach JD Wetherspoon from its customers and close the door of communication. It won’t be long before competitors use social media marketing to draw away customers, or Spoons comes back online.

If you’re not sure how best to use social media, get in touch with the team at Mobas to chat about our full suite of social media marketing services.

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