JD Wetherspoon – ‘social media no more’

Ditching your social media could be the next trending topic for businesses as they struggle to see a return on investment

JD Wetherspoon yesterday deleted its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, citing them as a distraction to the business and blaming social media for widespread unethical behaviour and addiction.

The 900-strong pub chain’s chairman Tim Martin said that 90-95% of his pub managers felt that social media wasn’t helping the business and committed to continue their marketing through its website, app and PR. In a Radio 5 interview, Martin said that he thought coming off social media would be good for society in general.


Is it really vital for business success?

Emporer's New Clothes
Everyone was too scared to tell the Emporer that social media wouldn’t make him the best leader in the land.

He added that he was ‘going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business.’

I’ve been waiting for someone of note to tell the emperor he wasn’t wearing any clothes, and I hope that JD Wetherspoon isn’t the last.

This ‘conventional wisdom’ that all businesses can benefit from social media is absolutely absurd, but no-one wants to hear it.

The recent troubles at Facebook have prompted many consumers to delete their personal accounts due to fears over privacy, but this is a business. But JD Wetherspoon is not just cutting off friends and family; the conventional wisdom would argue that they’re potentially cutting off their customers who generate £1.6 billion for the company in 2017. But if the boss really thought its income was in jeopardy, they wouldn’t be hitting the delete button, would they?

So if business owners are going to start deleting, it’s simply because they can’t see a future in it as a marketing tool.

Should you delete too?

This is not me saying I told you so, and that all businesses should step away from social media. My work involves advising people how to use it, and sometimes that means scaling back and sometimes it means scaling up. But I am clear about expectations. It’s not something you can use to line up inspirational quotes and spit them out with a scheduling tool. Social networks work well when they provide support for good campaigns.

The Telegraph also ponders this question: Should more businesses call time on social media.

The article quotes communications consultant Leanne Forshaw Jones, who rolls out the tiresome line that ‘Customers want to engage with brands online’. I’m sorry but they don’t. It’s the brands that want customers to engage with them, but there’s little to prove this happens on a meaningful scale for much other than making them more accessible for complaints, and a timeline of bad vibes isn’t what companies want. Take Bob Hoffman’s excellent Refrigerator Test and then ask yourself if you ever had a meaningful conversation with a Wetherspoon outlet.

More conventional wisdom?

Jones also says that Wetherspoon will struggle without a social media presence. But, in my opinion, that’s just another example of the so-called conventional wisdom. The landlords say it will make very little difference.

Some have said that it is a publicity stunt, others have suggested that deleting accounts removes complaints from the public eye, while many say that it’s related to Martin’s link with the Vote Leave campaign, which has now come under the spotlight.

But whatever the reason, the conventional wisdom has been interrupted and it is about time.

Marketers cannot simply go on saying that businesses must have social media and if they’re not seeing a return on investment, they must be doing it wrong. The remedy of course is to pay them.

And businesses can’t continue to believe that social media is a silver bullet that will magically bring customers to their door, it just doesn’t work like that.

Poor performer

In ten years of working with social networks, and 25 of working in journalism, PR and advertising, I can tell you that, averaged out, social media is the poorest performer in the marketing mix.

There are successes of courses, and these are usually successes that are simply amplified by social media, rather than because of it. A great video can go viral with the help of social media, but only because the video is great in the first place.

Wetherspoon, like any business can like or lump social media. Many businesses use it because they don’t want to be seen lumping it.

Who’s next?