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Why JD Wetherspoons decision to quit social media is down to them having the wrong strategy

This month amid a media frenzy and ironically a lot of trending on social media, saw JD Wetherspoons’ Chairman Tim Martin announce that with immediate effect the pub chain would be closing all of its social media accounts, in order to channel its communications directly via an in-house magazine and website.
Martin said he took the decision after becoming increasingly concerned by reports of MPs and public figures being targeted by trolls and following the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal. He also expressed a view that there is an unhealthy “compulsion” among social media users to spend too much time on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Martin felt that Wetherspoons’ staff were spending an increasing amount of time dealing with social media messages and that he was not convinced that being on social media sites brought any commercial benefit to the business.
Wetherspoon certainly isn't the only company to recently remove itself from social media platform. Indeed, the call to #DeleteFacebook after the Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal saw Playboy, Tesla and SpaceX delete its Facebook account.
So, you do have to ask yourself the question was JD Wetherspoons’ decision the right one? Well, no one can deny that Chairman Tim Martin knows his market, especially as his company keeps going from strength to strength, when on average 4 pubs close a week in the UK. He also knows his customers, so maybe he is truly making a stand for his customers by changing his digital policy. Or it could be a strategy based on the fact that he has previously blamed social media and in particular Facebook as part of the reason for the decline in the pub trade of recent years as more people choose to drink at home and ultimately use social media whilst doing so.
We might never know the real reasons why the decision was made, however for many the reason is very simple indeed: If JD Wetherspoons were not seeing any value in social media it was because they wasn’t using it well and their social media strategy must have been non- existent.
This argument certainly looks to have real weight as there is no doubt that engagement with their customer base was clearly low. Their twitter page only had 44,000 followers and Facebook 100,000 followers and retweets and likes were very low. It certainly does appear that their use of social media had very little strategy and was simply happening because everyone else was doing it.
Indeed, much of their activity on social media consisted of responding to customer complaints that were clearly visible on their accounts. Could these visible complaints be seen as a major reason for the move off social media by the pub chain? The official JD Wetherspoon Facebook had showed a rating of 1.7 out of five stars. 56 of the 73 reviews had the lowest ranking of 1 star. Plus, the Wetherspoon Facebook page had fewer than 1,000 likes but also attracted many negative reviews.
This all highlights that possibly Wetherspoons social media activity was not helping the pub chain sell more pints so they shut it down, oddly in the guise of doing so to help their customers, when in fact by doing so they have removed the voice of their customers.
The first place people turn to when complaining is social media, especially young people, and now Wetherspoon will no longer be able to deal with customer complaints and in fact might not even hear about them. They have chosen to dictate how their customers can speak to them, which doesn’t bode well for customer service.
The content of Wetherspoons’ social media also seemed to have very little strategy and appeared to be all self-promoting material which has very little value to customers, again indicating that the primary motive was to convert their social base into paying customers.
Now, this is where the real failure of Wetherspoons’ social media strategy appears to lie.
They simply forgot that social media for businesses is about generating brand awareness, brand affinity, brand loyalty and customer engagement any direct impact on sales should be seen as a bonus.
So, instead of quitting social media Mr Martin should have taken a long, hard look at how best to apply social media to his business, come up with an effective strategy with great and relevant content and set some very clear expectations.

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