It was almost enough to place your pint down on the bar in momentary disbelief. Tim Martin, chairman and founder of JD Wetherspoon, announced his beloved pub chain would be shutting its social media accounts with immediate effect.
"It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion”, Martin said in a statement. "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."
Aside from the apparent irony of a pub chain worrying about the addictive tendencies of social media, the decision revives an age-old debate: what value do social channels really bring your company, and does it make more sense to spend more effort on your social media campaigns than your website?
The announcement comes at a time when commercial data practices are under intense scrutiny. Not only are updated data privacy requirements in the form of GDPR upon us, the recent firestorm of criticism directed at Facebook over its relationship with Cambridge Analytica led to international calls to #DeleteFacebook. Tesla did just that, as did JD Wetherspoon -- although for apparently separate reasons. Either way, it’s not often that Tim Martin and Elon Musk are mentioned in the same breath.
Putting electric vehicles and warm ale to one side, what are the key things you need to bear in mind when assessing Wetherspoon’s move? What are the actionable takeaways? Here is our best advice to help you navigate the digital waters.
#1 DON’T PANIC
Avoid knee jerk reactions. Social media isn’t going away.
A decade ago, the mantra was that all you need is a website. Build it and they will come.
It wasn’t long before the playing field got crowded and lucrative keyword terms became competitive. The pendulum swung towards social. People began to invest as much effort in their social campaigns as their websites.
But here’s the problem: you can’t be the best on every social platform at the same time as running the kind of amazing website everyone raves about. Not without astronomical levels of resource anyway.
Well, fear not. Because when the pendulum swings from one side to the other, the best course of action generally lies somewhere in the middle. You can still do social as well as invest in your website, as long as you get the balance right. Which leads us to our next point:
#2 DON’T BUILD YOUR HOUSE ON RENTED LAND
Every pound you wisely spend on your website will pay you back in the long term. It’s just like buying a house rather than renting it. You’re investing in yourself, not running your accommodation on someone else’s platform, and you’re not subject to the whims of the social media companies.
Of course, by closing its social accounts JD Wetherspoon will bring renewed attention to its website and other owned communication channels. As a result, it will need to work hard to keep its site fresh with relevant content and updates. By ending activity in one area, it must commit to work in another.
#3 DON’T SPREAD YOURSELF THIN
There’s a constant battle of the platforms between Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like. You could literally spend your entire business life doing nothing but posting to social, if that weren’t such a bad idea.
A much better approach is to pick one or two social platforms that align well with your customer base and target audience, and then seriously develop your presence on those.
That doesn’t mean you should never try new social networks. Experiment with Pinterest or Instagram, or whatever is new and shiny, if you think it may add value to your business.
Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that being active on a social network is equivalent to doing business. Did Wetherspoon’s Instagram account really help it sell more pints or deliver a better customer experience? Closely scrutinise the results, and be prepared to pull the plug at any time.
#4 BUILD YOUR OWNED CHANNELS
Of course, your website is not the only way you communicate with your customers. JD Wetherspoon understands this, and offers its patrons a number of options for staying in touch.
It points to its long-standing publication Wetherspoon News, in which it aims to drive conversation and foster community engagement.
It wants you to download its app to encourage table service in its pubs.
It advises you to communicate issues with your local manager. Yes, actually speak to someone. No more complaining about slow service or asking menu-related questions via Twitter. Maybe they hope you’ll buy another round at the same time.
It also believes by stopping its social posting it will claw back time for Wetherspoon staff that can be better spent on communicating with customers for each of its more than 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland.
All of which brings us back to where we started:
#5 INVEST IN YOUR WEBSITE
Nothing ultimately beats your website.
Your site is where your best content should live. Your site is where your community should be able to find answers to commonly asked questions. Your site should help your customers and your staff stay as informed as possible about what is going on in your business. Your site should communicate what your company truly stands for.
Of course, there are a number of different ways to go about building your website. But once you have got the ball rolling, make sure you stay on top of things and keep your site regularly updated.
In announcing Wetherspoon’s decision to shut the door on social media, Tim Martin shrugged off its potential commercial impact. “I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers”, he remarked.
Although we are not advocating that you do a Wetherspoon or Tesla and jump off social altogether, we do advise being smart about the internal resources you are investing into your social media strategy. First and foremost maintain a strong website, do social to whatever extent makes sense for you, and let the good times roll.