Wetherspoon leaves social media

JD Wetherspoon, the pub chain founded by Tim Martin, has deactivated all its social media accounts, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, forsaking more than 150,000 followers, with immediate effect.

Ironically, Martin announced the decision in a tweet that is no longer available, citing the addictive nature of social media and the worrying tendency of its users to troll MPs as reasons contributing to his decision.

 He added: ‘I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers.’ Instead, Wetherspoon will keep its customers informed via its own magazine and ‘keeping the press updated at all times’.

 The shock decision was viewed as pragmatic and a reflection of the changing social media landscape which has dramatically reduced organic reach. Sharon O’Dea, communications consultant and co-founder of Lithos Partners, added that managing social media takes up a lot of resources and may have no effect on Wetherspoon’s bottom line.

 She said: ‘In terms of return on investment, there’s the possibility it is stepping back from social because it doesn’t speak to the people [the chain] is trying to get through the door.’

 The move follows Martin’s decision to delete Wetherspoon’s entire database of customer email addresses last year in advance of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming on stream next month.

 O’Dea added: ‘This is all bound up with GDPR. What is social honestly doing for your business? If it’s not clear whether it drives business, the risk is higher than its value. It’s not unreasonable then to decide it isn’t worth having.’

 Social media consultant Paul Sutton believes the reasons given by Martin are not entirely what they seem. ‘I personally think it’s because of the way [Wetherspoon] was using social media. It was seeing very little value because it didn’t appear to be using it strategically. Because of that, we’re seeing this massive overreaction. It’s easy to blame fake news and privacy concerns but I think that’s all a convenient ‘Get out’ clause, covering up the deeper reason,’ he said. ‘In the same vein, some people have accused it of being a PR stunt but you’re not going to close hundreds of social media accounts for a PR stunt.’

At the time of its announcement, Wetherspoon had more than 900 social media accounts, including those belong to individual pubs. Manchester pub The Bishop Blaize, which has more than 8,300 followers on Twitter, tweeted: ‘As Per JD Wetherspoons H/Office Instructions We have been informed to close our social media accounts. We are disappointed with this decision but respect and follow the company’s wishes we would like to thank all our followers over the last few years. Regards Bishops Blaize.’ 

But quitting social media does not, as O’Dea points out, mean social media will quit Wetherspoon. She said: ‘People will continue to talk about you on it. The difference is that by not being on social, you’re chasing the narrative, instead of being part of it.’

 Sutton agreed. ‘I suspect that a lot of its interaction would have been negative. What they have effectively done is close off a customer service channel. That is never a good thing – at least with social, it would have a chance to respond.’