Why JD Wetherspoon is right to call time on its social media accounts

Going against ‘conventional wisdom’, cheap and not-often-cheerful pub chain J D Wetherspoon has canned all 900 of its social media accounts. Chairman Tim Martin claims that doing so is unlikely to have any effect on the business ‘whatsoever’.

It comes a year after making the decision to delete its 700,000 person-strong email database – on purpose.

Martin told the BBC that the idea that social media is essential for advertising is untrue, and said that its pub managers and competitors are ‘wasting hours of their time’. When asked if the move could start a trend, he added that he hoped not, as not using social would give them a competitive advantage.

It speaks to a simpler time, when complainants would speak to a manager IRL rather than sulkily .@ and narc to some disinterested social overlord on Twitter, in the adult equivalent of ‘I’m telling your mum’.

With no obvious ROI from social media, the channels were used primarily (and indifferently according to a few responses to this announcement) as a customer service platform. We all know what that really means – customer service on social media is basically the channel manager frantically trying to assuage and move conversations to a more private place.

This firefighting can become exhausting, and on more than one occasion in the recent past, clients have told me they’d love to pull the rip cord. None have actually gone through with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this move causes a ripple, as more customer-facing brands realise that social media *might*, in some instances, be more trouble than it’s worth.

To be honest, and I know many will disagree with me, especially as a public relations person applauding the withdrawal of channels to engage with their ‘public’, I think it’s a smart move. It’s not the right decision for everybody, of course. If Asos, for instance, was to pull its social for the same reasons, I’d disagree, given it doesn't have a face-to-face channel through which to otherwise engage, but… fair play to Wetherspoon. It’s a brave move.

With 900 accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, that’s a sprawling mess of moaning to wade through, especially for pub managers with a job to do. While I’ve seen many respond to say that the decision is short-sighted, I disagree. The instant and barrier-less ability to complain, combined with the potential for public approbation, means people don’t take a step back to consider if their issue is indeed an issue that needs resolving anymore.

I’d wager that a large percentage of the unanswered complaints to Wetherspoon’s accounts – and indeed many brand accounts that serve as customer service channels – would not be made if it meant speaking to a manager or having to write a letter, like those in ancient times gone by. People would simply either get their issue dealt with in person or cool off and realise that, hey, life isn’t quite so bad, and complaining that you got three fewer chips than a mate isn’t the end of the world.

‘Ah, but online complaints shouldn’t be unanswered’, says an imaginary detractor, with furrowed (straw) brows. I would respond – I agree, it should be all – or not at all. J D Wetherspoon is a business and managing complaints that can be made in other ways isn’t revenue generating. Pulling pints is.

Rich Leigh is the founder of Radioactive PR

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