Social media’s effectiveness at connecting brands with their customers has come into focus again after Wetherspoon announced its decision to shut down all of its social accounts. The pub chain has revealed that head office accounts, and those of individual pubs across the country, will no longer use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for customer engagement.
A tweet posted on the morning of Monday 16th April read:
The decision was actioned immediately, and just hours after the announcement was made, all of Wetherspoon’s accounts had been closed.
Why has this happened?
Wetherspoon’s chairman Tim Martin has said that abuse of social platforms has led to the move. Misuse of personal data, trolling of politicians and social media addiction have been particularly prominent in his decision-making.
“It's becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion," Martin explained. "We were also concerned that pub managers were being side-tracked from the real job of serving customers."
Martin also felt that social simply doesn't add enough value.
Instead, print and the Wetherspoon app and website will be used to connect with customers. "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."
What are the benefits?
In the short term, there's nothing but good news. Wetherspoon generates plenty of PR, dominates the news cycle and - ironically - trends on Twitter.
Additionally, Martin is right that the brand stands out in the long-term. Wetherspoon now has a unique digital selling point and at a time where social media is under increased scrutiny, it makes itself seem relevant.
What's more, by focusing so much on their own media, they stand to increase use of it. With no social media channels to follow, people looking to find out about Wetherspoon will need to visit their website or download their app.
The brand has brought everything in house and gained greater control over their communications. No amount of algorithm changes or privacy updates will affect how it connects from now on.
What are the drawbacks?
But marketing isn't about the needs and wants of brands. The customer always comes first, and by moving away from social media, Wetherspoon is moving away from platforms that are the first port of call for many people.
With 44,000 followers on Twitter and more than 100,000 on Facebook, there is a huge number of people who want to engage. This suggests that maybe the platforms are not to blame, but rather Wetherspoon’s content or the way they used the channels is at fault
What’s certain is that those thousands are now lacking direct and easy connection with the company. Instead of simply tapping the Twitter app or loading up Facebook (both now parts of people's everyday routines), they’ll either need to download the app or navigate to the website.
What's more, as Wetherspoon operates in a regulated industry, there are even more risks at play. Messaging - and in some cases, the number of platforms available - is heavily restricted, so it's important to ensure that reach is as wide as possible, people can easily find you and messaging is enticing.
By cutting social media off, Wetherspoon has created self-imposed restrictions where none needed to exist and limited the scope of its creativity in an industry where creativity is the solution to restrictions.
The best brands within these markets prove time and again that necessity is the mother of invention, but Wetherspoon has left itself with far fewer raw materials to get inventive with. Their competitors are sure to take advantage.
In a nutshell…
Social media is just that: social. By taking itself out of the conversation, Wetherspoon is gaining short-term attention but risking long-term irrelevance. The emphasis will now fall on their website and app, and while both are excellent channels to drive awareness and conversion, engagement could prove elusive.