Why JD Wetherspoons is right to pull the plug on social

As one of the UK's biggest pub chains pulls out of social media entirely, communications consultant Matt Phillips looks to Mark Ritson for some sage words of advice.

If marketing is primarily about raising awareness of your brand, or trying to encourage a direct sale at the point of purchase, what value does JD Wetherspoons get from being on social media?

Such is the enthusiasm for new digital marketing channels, companies will often rush to set up new profiles before thinking through how best to use them. This is totally understandable – better to test, learn and can it rather than sit around to others storm ahead. But it can create problems for later, as JD Wetherspoons has found.

Rich Leigh’s article on The Drum captures their dilemma from a PR point of view, and it could be argued that the main motivation was to step away from a self-made social echo chamber of slacktivist customer complaints – and as he points out – any move to silence unhappy customers sits uncomfortably in an age of digital transparency.

Tweets via the BBC

That said, the company’s point that social media is a time waster holds true, especially if customer services is the primary use case for social.

There’s also some interesting suggestions of other ulterior motives emerging, with parallels being drawn between Wetherspoons’ no-nonsense Brexiteer boss and the ongoing Cambridge Analytica scandal. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. But irrespective of that, the move to withdraw from social still makes business sense in my view.

Looking at it from a promotional perspective, Facebook in particular may initially have felt like an easy win for marketers, where viral ‘organic content’ could put your brand in front of a audience of billions.

But it’s now a paid-for marketing channel whose pitch is targeting specific audiences, namely whose behaviour can be influenced or changed; whether that’s in brand marketing (raising awareness of the brand to influence us to buy in future) or direct response (prompting us to buy in the moment).

For a multitude of reasons – not least the growing awareness that digital is not nearly as effective as most marketers thought it was, as outlined in this excellent must-read from Mark Ritson – more brands are questioning whether they are right to continue investing as heavily as they have in social media.

“It’s worth pointing out that all the digital media perform worst on [emotional response], meaning that those looking for broad engagement and a more effective advertising impact need to consider investing their money elsewhere,” writes Ritson.

If the company has invested in paid media, I expect it’s gained relatively little value from Facebook relative to mainstream media like TV, newspapers or billboards – which are proven brand-building channels with trusted audiences that are, pound for pound, more effective than social media in reaching a large audience.

And as an offline low-price brand, JD Wetherspoons has little to gain much from money-off direct-response campaigns that can work well for online businesses.

So JD Wetherspoons coming off social media makes perfect sense for three reasons: it’s limited on brand reach, it’s ineffective for sales promotions and unhelpful and unwieldy from a customer service point of view.

Matt Phillips is the founder of PPR Consulting and is based in the UK. This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

Editor’s note: Wetherspoons fans can still get their social media fix via this Tumblr account.


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