by GK Strategy 20th April, 2018

How to lose friends and alienate audiences

JD Wetherspoon announced that it will be closing down its social media accounts with immediate effect. Chairman Tim Martin stated that the public’s favourite pub chain would be leaving Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, following the “bad publicity surrounding social media.”

Citing the rise of online bullying, the misuse of personal data and unhealthy social media use, Wetherspoons closed the social media account for its head office and almost 900 pubs across the UK. Instead, the company would focus on its website and magazine, as well as using the press for its announcements.

This is a strategy, but is it the right one?

It is true that online abuse is a very real issue. The vitriol levelled against women and ethnic minorities in particular is well-documented, with research by UNISON Wales finding that online ‘trolling’ is putting women off politics.

Similarly, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal has sparked debate about how social media companies use our personal data and has forced users to think more about how much trust they are placing in the hands of these companies.

With this backdrop it is easy to understand reticence or nervousness from business about how to use social media, especially as the platforms concerned seemingly operate with little or no actual accountability.

However, Wetherspoons is a major brand with a broad audience, many of whom congregate on social media. In the digital age, it is a bold and probably wrong strategy to walk away from social media.

While Wetherspoons was established before the age of following and liking, not changing with the times is why many big brands have failed before. Blockbuster, Kodak, Nokia and Blackberry spring to mind. While it could be argued that the concept of having a beer and a burger won’t change, people’s interest in doing it at Wetherspoons could.

Rather than withdrawing from the digital world, Wetherspoons should be thinking about how it can use its heritage to win the battle online to maintain footfall in its pubs.

By stating that he is going against the ‘conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business’, Tim Martin has failed to see that social media is a culmination of technological advancements and an ever-connected world.

Twitter et al are important aspects of business success because evolving technology and increased interconnectivity have both transformed the way we need to communicate and has provided an extra means to do so.

Then there is the extra complexity of having to communicate with ‘digital natives’. There are two whole generations of individuals – millennials and Generation Z – who have only ever known digital and are much more likely to communicate digitally than personally.

By choosing to close all of its social media, Wetherspoons risks disenfranchising a group of consumers thus providing its competitors an extra competitive advantage. This short-term remedy will have a long-term negative impact on Wetherspoons’ ability to communicate with current and future audiences.

Before making this decision, I would have asked three key questions:

  1. How will we redirect the resource – time and money – currently spent on social media to activities that communicate our brand identity?
  2. What are our competitors doing with their digital voice?
  3. How will we measure our future engagement of ‘digital natives’?

Social media, for better or worse, is here to stay.

GK’s consultants can help your business develop and implement successful social media strategies. For more information, contact viya@gkstrategy.com

To find out more about how onefourzero’s digital due diligence can help you identify opportunities for growth and potential risks, contact fleur@onefourzerogroup.com

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