In 2018, not having a presence on social media is akin to commercial suicide. The opportunities for reach and engagement are simply too good, while customers actively expect to be able interact with the brands they like on social. Almost anyone in the industry would echo that sentiment, but there is a danger that brands are doing social for social's sake, and that time and money spent on social could be better spent appealing to target audiences outside of the social space.
And, despite the current landscape, UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon has done the unthinkable and taken the decision to shut down its social media accounts. Going forward, Wetherspoons will "continue to release news stories and information about forthcoming events on [its] website (jdwetherspoon.com) and in [its] printed magazine – Wetherspoon News," a statement earlier this month read. To anyone that has kept up with digital trends in the last decade, the rejection of social media in favour of print media will fly in the face of every recommendation and prediction we've had with regard to customer interaction.
The reason Wetherspoons took the decision is that, in the context of its unbelievable reach and popularity, its social media accounts were barely interacted with. Marketing Week calculated that the average tweet from the pub giant drew just six retweets and four likes, a paltry sum given the three million pints it sells every week. This suggests that a lot of its customers aren't active social media users, and the ones that are simply aren't that interested in interacting with a ubiquitous pub chain online. As a result, owner Tim Martin is convinced that the deletion of the social media accounts won't affect the business at all. If anything, he expects, it will take away a "distraction" for his staff and allow them to focus on what matters - serving customers.
Despite the company's immense size, Martin has a knack for reading his customers, knowing what they want from the brand and having absolutely no problem going against the grain if he believes it to be right for the business. Openly rejecting business tools like Big Data and artificial intelligence (at least publicly), Martin is a throwback to business leaders that acted with their gut and made a point of at least pretending that they identify with their target customers. Even so, his rejection of modern digital marketing techniques shouldn't be confused with a rustic, no-nonsense approach. They come from a place of untouchability.
Ultimately, Martin is in the privileged position of having a pre-tax profit of over £76 million to play with, his establishments so culturally embedded into the UK that it's difficult to imagine a business decision that could spell genuine disaster at any scale. Wetherspoons has 37,000 employees across just under 1,000 outlets, and has an untouchable reputation for value.
The majority of businesses can, of course, benefit from using social media in some capacity. It gives customers a platform on which to have direct contact with the brands they like, and 71% of consumers who have had a good experience with a brand on social are likely to recommend that brand to others, according to Ambassador. Those that get it right can build a reputation auxiliary to that of their product and marketing campaigns, while the opportunities for seamless customer service afforded by an active social media profile can be invaluable. What Martin and Wetherspoon's decision illustrates, though, is the need to understand your audience deeply and not assume that your core customers will be interested in interaction with your Twitter profile. If, indeed, the strive to be active on social was a distraction for his countless management teams, then the decision to remove that unnecessary extra responsibility will likely bear fruit.
The takeaway for less established brands is perhaps to assess which social media platforms best apply to their audience. If there is no discernible business impact from your Twitter presence, could that time not be better spent elsewhere? Yes, social media is an integral part of modern digital marketing, but spreading yourself too thin over every platform out there for fear of missing out can actually damage a business.