Shut up, Don’t listen: Wetherspoons and social media

Earlier on this week the bargain basement pub chain JD Wetherspoons announced that it was deleting all of its social media accounts. No longer would the company, nor any of its individual pubs, appear on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.  Instead, anyone who wants to complain about (or praise?) the company is now asked to do so in the old-fashioned way, with a comment to the landlord or a letter (or maybe an email) to head office.

Cue much debate in comms land about whether this is a good or a bad idea.  In a much retweeted article (ironically), PR Rich Leigh argued that it was a good decision, and one that fitted with the Wetherspoons image.  Indeed, Leigh went on to argue, all too often social media is more trouble than its worth for consumer-facing brands.

On one level I agree with this.  Too many companies open up accounts and don’t really know what to do with them.  They feel they ought to have Twitter / Facebook / etc to help them ‘engage’, but they don’t then devote the resources needed to make that engagement meaningful, and when they come to think about it they don’t really want to respond to customer feedback anyway.  For these companies there is a strong case for concentrating on one channel, maybe simply the corporate website, and doing it well.  Having a grab bag of different accounts, none of which deliver for customers or potential recruits or anyone else is often more than just pointless: it can be genuinely damaging.

So back to Wetherspoons.  I doubt very much they or their patrons will notice they have gone from social media.  But let’s not be fooled by the company’s claims about its decision.  In passing the coverage of this move revealed the company had 900 different accounts.  Different pubs, with different accounts, sending out different messages.  No business could think that was a good idea.  So in that situation yes, closing them all down is probably the only way to regain control.

And let’s not underestimate too the value of the publicity – often on social media – given to the company this week for, er, retreating from social media.  Tim Martin is a brilliant PR.  This week he has proved it again.

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