In an era where every brand and its dog uses social media to interact directly with audiences and gain fans (and for consumers it's an extension of customer services and an effective way to bag a freebie off the back of a complaint), the initial reaction from the comms world is that this is, at best, a form of self-sabotage.
Tim Martin, founder of the pub chain, summarised his view of social media quite succinctly in a tweet (that is no longer available), which said he was going against the conventional wisdom that social media was a vital component for a successful business and that he and his pub managers did not envisage a negative effect from the decision.
Community and social media management is a full-time job, and it should be.
A brand whose business model is to facilitate socialising within the four walls of its pubs may feel the expense of investing in social media is money wasted – if a customer is spending their time tweeting you, they’re not spending that time (or their money) in your pub.
'Got a problem with one of our pubs? Come visit us and complain. Like what we do? Come have a pint or glass of wine over a plate of reasonably priced food….'
The pub chain isn’t a technophobe (two apps!) and has been very clear this isn’t the end of them communicating to the outside world, promising to continue to speak to press and to listen to customers.
Its website, although not the prettiest, serves as a central hub for news, information and promotions. It even has a magazine.
No email newsletters: the company deleted its customer email database last year (that’s one way to be GDPR compliant).
'Why invest in a medium which keeps your customers glued to a screen, rather than in your venues spending money?'
He has a point.
Facebook’s 2018 'message' was all about encouraging meaningful interactions on the platform above branded content.
It’s also important to remember that brands do not own their social media channels, they are rented space and the landlord can call time at any moment.
But should other brands follow suit? In two words: it depends.
Killing off its social media accounts will not drastically affect the Wetherspoon group.
It wasn’t making the best use of social media and more time was likely spent fending off complaints and trolls than creating meaningful interactions.
And who chooses their boozer based on its twitter action?
However, if the brand in question is one that doesn’t exclusively operate in a physical space – finance, tech, fashion, beauty, food & drink... all need strategies that take them beyond the place where they sell products – then limiting your customer interactions is a quick route to losing the customer relationship.
However, if Mr Martin and team had invested in a more robust and engaging strategy, with measurable goals that were being achieved, they may not have been so quick to remove a series of channels that many other brands (and certainly comms practitioners) consider the most cost-effective and honest way of communicating with customers.
Jasper Rosenau is head of content & publishing at H+K Strategies
Thumbnail image via jdwetherspoon.com