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Guest Blog Post: Wetherspoon Shuts Down Social Media – A News Report by Ana Clara Paniago
Before the sun was even up on the 16th of April, Wetherspoon sent out the following tweet to its 44,000 followers: “In a world of social media, J. D. Wetherspoon has decided to close down all Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts for individual pubs and head office.”
Within a moment’s notice, all accounts for the 900 pubs spread out throughout the United Kingdom were shut down. This included Facebook, Twitter and even the occasional Instagram.
Although fans around the country were confused at this sudden and rash decision, the company kept its calm. That same day, Tim Martin, founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon, spoke to the BBC about “the addictive nature of social media”, insisting that closing down their accounts will not affect their business.
But why did they do it?
In their official statement, J. D. Wetherspoon claimed they did so because of “recent concerns regarding the misuse of personal data” and “the bad publicity surrounding social media, including the ‘trolling’ of MPs and others, especially those from religious or ethnic minorities”.
They also reaffirmed that this didn’t come from a specific incident, but rather, was because of the current climate of social media and the direction it’s heading.
What did people say?
Like all other major decisions surrounding digital media nowadays, this move received plenty of backlash, from people in the tech industry to day-to-day users of social media.
If you take one look at Twitter, you’ll see the hundreds of disgruntled Tweets from people all over the country refusing to accept the change.
The company itself was seemingly unbothered by all these comments, saying that this was definitely a step forward not only for them, but for society as a whole.
When speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live later on, Martin commented that society should start limiting their social media time to half an hour a day. To him, and to the rest of the staff present in making that decision, social media was not a priority for the pub giant, and now they can focus on other parts of their marketing strategy.
What will happen next?
But Wetherspoon, or “Spoons” as it is affectionately referred to by Millenials, doesn’t need a large social media following to function as a company. In fact, I’m willing to bet that their sales will not take a hit from this decision.
I actually believe that this is the perfect marketing stunt. You see, even though we’ve been reading about the number of followers from the main Wetherspoon social accounts, you have to remember that each of the 900 pubs had its own dedicated page. None of them were very active.
By closing all of the accounts, Wetherspoon is generating more conversations about their products than if they had just left them alone.
Like all great marketing stunts, their decision is bound to be the talk of the town, or of social media, even if they’re not on it. Martin has gone on record to state that this was not the rationale behind the decision, but the idea still stands.
So do they actually need social media at all?
Unlike up-and-coming independent establishments, large companies such as Wetherspoon may not need to spend as much time cultivating their social media presence. Their key marketing comes from word of mouth and referrals.
Admittedly, there is something inherently British about these establishments. As a non-British resident in this country, I was baffled by the way that “Spoons” is not only a pub, but also a social gathering. It is the place to meet your friends in town, regardless of the town you’re in. It’s consistent, cheap, and reliable. You can go for a pint and curry deal wherever you are in the country.
And even though I was shocked by the decision to close down all the accounts, I don’t remember ever visiting the Twitter profile of my local Spoons. Why would I? I know how to get there and when the opening hours are, and that’s enough for me.
I wouldn’t need to check social media to see that they have a new menu on offer, because I would find out eventually when I visited the pub next. There was nothing driving me to follow their social media accounts, even though I am a frequent visitor to their pubs. Well, I’m a student!
Wetherspoon cracked that code and turned it on its head. They knew that they had nothing new to add to the world of social media, so they cut it completely.
When your establishment has infiltrated the fabric of social norms, it means it doesn’t necessarily need to be tracking or increasing their following count as heavily as we’d expect them to.
Will other companies do the same?
Again, it’s impossible to tell. Wetherspoon is merely part of a larger trend of companies taking a harsh stand against social media in the midst of all this chaos.
At the same time, large companies are starting to see how crucial an innovative social media strategy is to their brand. Think about the Tesco Mobile Twitter conversations, or that viral hashtag #NuggsForCarter. These business have started cultivating a personality online, even having exchanges with other similar companies (looking at you, MoonPie) to generate traction. And people love it!
So there are two ways to go about this: either the companies will become more attuned to what their audiences want, or they will go off social media forever.
What does this mean for you?
On one hand, you’ve struck lucky if you’re a local pub owner who no longer needs to compete with the giants on social media.
On the other hand, if companies are saying that they don’t need social media to market their products anymore, you may be tempted to do the same.
Personally, I don’t believe that this is where we’re heading for now. Social media has become such a large part of our day-to-day lives, not only for communication (arguably its intended purpose), but for everything else that comes along with it.
If I’m planning to visit a new café, the chances are I’ll look at their ratings on Facebook. If I’m thinking of trying out a new hair salon, I’ll probably check if they have an Instagram page of examples. As a young person, many of my daily decisions are backed up by social media, and I don’t think that’s going away any time soon.
But we may be on the cusp of watching larger companies step away from the social media stratosphere.
If someone like J.D. Wetherspoon is saying that they don’t need it for sales, and they succeed, then there’s nothing stopping other companies to do the same. It’s a weird time to be active on social media, so hold on tight and let’s see what happens.
Will we see them again?
If Martin gets his way, no. He claims it would be a “catastrophe” and utterly “humiliating”. But I don’t see it going that way.
Coming back to social media wouldn’t be a failure. It’ll be a stepping stone in realising how important social media has become to us. If his customers want them on there I believe he should listen to them.
Limiting social media usage is easier said than done, and even among all this chaos with Facebook, so we don’t see that many people stepping away for once and for all.
So, either this is the greatest marketing stunt that Wetherspoon has ever managed to pull in the digital age, or it’s a horrendous mistake that they will try to return from in the next month or so. Either way, all we can do is watch what happens next to hopefully learn and apply it to our own business and marketing.
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