JD Wetherspoon has recently announced (on social media, ironically) that it’s closing its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for all 900 pubs and head office.
The company stated that social media had become ‘a major distraction’ for the company, and the bold move has been met with widespread skepticism, with some simply claiming it to be nothing more than a publicity stunt.
The chain’s outspoken chairman Tim Martin was quick to quash these claims. The firm’s argument is fantastically contradicted by the manner in which Tim Martin conducts himself online, often posting brash and questionable posts not suitable for a man in his position.
However, they do have a point. JD Wetherspoon (also known as Spoons) claim that too many people are spending an unhealthy amount of time on social media channels, and the world’s social media addiction is rampant.
In a tweet that has since been taken down, Martin posted, “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.”
It is understood that Martin has piggybacked on the ‘trolling’ argument to justify this decision, where many politicians, celebrities, and ethnic minorities become targets of online abuse. However, we believe a more likely factor was Spoons’ failure to provide engaging content for its followers – lacking a brand voice resembling American fast food chain Wendy’s.
While the rise of internet trolls is undoubtedly causing a large number of people to remove themselves from social media platforms, in this case we believe there is something else going on. Here are some statistics to sink your teeth into:
– The average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes on these sites everyday equating to 28% of their total time on the internet.
– The 16-24 age group are by far the most active social media users with 91% using the internet for social media.
– 51% of 55-64-year-olds use social media, and only 23% of the 65+ age range do. It’s clear that there is currently a generational disparity when looking at social media usage.
– 1 out of 6 young people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and identified rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the past 25 years.
– 24% of young people have been targeted on social media due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability.
– 88% of trolls are on Twitter
Interestingly, for a chain of its size JD Wetherspoon failed to gain much traction through its various social media channels. With just over 44,000 Twitter followers, and 100,000 on Facebook some people believe this announcement to be a shock tactic to get the public talking about the brand online. Will they dramatically announce their return later down the line, replicating a modern twist of Lazarus rising from the dead? Only time will tell.
But if it’s not a PR stunt, then what is it?
Could it be that that chain is trying to take back control of their online reputation? It’s possible.
Brand managers are losing their controlled grip on the content and quality of information about their brand due to the amplification of communication between stakeholders taking place on social media. This has resulted in a power shift in favour of the consumers. This shift has been labelled as the ‘democratisation of brand management’, where in this new digital environment, consumers are the new brand managers.
JD Wetherspoon’s activity on social media was largely focused on suppressing the almost uncontrollable amounts of complaints they received on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. The company is no stranger to controversy either, most notably having to respond to claims that their staff had been told they are not allowed to wear remembrance poppies while on shift – which they came out categorically denying.
Furthermore, an overwhelming amount of their 900 sites Facebook pages failed to gain many followers at all most struggling to hit over four figures which results in fewer of their posts being seen by their followers on news feeds if they’re seen at all. Facebook, in particular, has been a massive headache for them, and had become a hotbed for negative reviews which are clearly shown at the top of their profiles.
So what could this mean for companies and brands looking to follow suit? This can only really be evaluated on an individual basis. These sites provide the opportunity to show off products and services on a mass scale. If the correct strategy is in place, social media can be a fantastic opportunity for free advertising.
Companies and brands that are experiencing difficulties online should consider three key elements before going completely tee-total with social media:
1) Are they providing content that is engaging, and representative of their demographic?
2) Have they fully assessed all options, such as removing the rating function from sites such as Facebook?
3) Are they using the correct social media platform for their product or service? E.g. a sales firm doesn’t need to use Instagram as much as a product based company.
Brands need to start moving towards quality over quantity with social media, avoiding a strategy of churning out pointless posts that aren’t aimed at their target market. If they can fully engage with their following they’ll find it much easier to maintain their online reputation, rather than promising the world to potential customers only for them to be unimpressed as result of finding out the product or service wasn’t for them.
Personally, we don’t see a way back for Spoons if this is PR stunt. Social media never really worked for them in the first place. Their customers already know what they’re getting from a tepid korma at Thursday Curry Club!
As we alluded to earlier, tonality is key for any social media strategy. However, while it is possible for brands to change theirs over time, we believe the image that already hangs over the chain would require a total rebrand to rectify. So, while JD Wetherspoon does have a point about the public being too addicted to social media, the pro’s vastly outweigh the cons in that argument, and social media has become a fantastic shop window for many brands and products since its inception in the early 2000’s. The move definitely has undertones of a reputation management strategy (rather than the stale lager and Jaeger bombs if you frequent one of their establishments) as they are now asking customers to use the website and app to contact the company, clearly in our eyes as means of controlling their image.
If your company is struggling to wrestle back control of your online image and have fallen victims to online trolls, do get in contact with us. We offer a range of services that help get you back in control of your reputation without abandoning social media’s ship.