Last orders for Wetherspoons' social

16 April 2018 | Lloyd Hughes

Pub brand JD Wetherspoons has opted for a surprise social media move by deleting all of its 900 social media accounts – including its head office and individual pubs – across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The firm’s chief executive, Tim Martin, said:

“We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business. I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers.”

While it may be a controversial opinion from someone at an agency that offers social media management as a service – I pretty much agree with him.

Wetherspoons is a brand that can get away without social media. It’s well established, with a reputation for cheap drinks that practically everyone is aware of.

Many of our social media clients are boutique luxury hotels. For these, social media is a vital component of their marketing strategy. They’re fighting to standout in a crowded marketspace, where many people have never heard of their offering. An enticing Instagram post of a luxury suite, or a spa treatment, offers aspirational escapism to its audience. There is a real chance of someone thinking, “wow, that looks nice” and keeping it in mind as a potential place to stay.

A photo of a cheap pint, however, isn’t likely to entice the average denizen of Wetherspoons to visit – they already know where to go when looking to tank back some budget booze, and a Tweet is unlikely to persuade them otherwise if they’re planning on heading somewhere else.

Wetherspoons apparently had 44,000 Twitter followers and 100,000 on Facebook (I say apparently, as they’ve already been deleted so can’t know for certain), which, for such a well-known national brand, is a comparatively small following.

Retail chains like H&M, ASOS and Zara for instance have followings that are in the millions, while supermarket brands such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s are into the hundreds of thousands.

Pub chain comparisons such as Greene King (14k Twitter followers) or budget eateries such as Toby Carvery (31.4k) and Harvester (31k) aren’t far off Wetherspoons’ figures, however the term “heading to ‘spoons” is much more a part of common parlance than “off to the Greene King” ever will be.

Wetherspoons is also the recognised term for individual pubs. It’s rare that someone says, “off to The Swan” or “going to The Crown” when it’s under the Wetherspoons umbrella brand. ‘Spoons or Wetherspoons is what they tend to say.

A big factor that the brand has no doubt taken into consideration as part of the move is complaints. It’s easy to hide behind a social media account and fire off an angry tweet if you had to wait a while for your meal. But if it comes to actually speaking to a manager or writing a physical letter/email of complaint, people are much more reluctant to do so…and many simply can’t be bothered.

Managing social media grievances for a brand the size of Wetherspoons is liable to be a full-time job. Let’s face it, it’s not renowned for sparkling service and delectable cuisine, so most of the social media posts are likely to be criticisms rather than 5* star reviews.

Taking out the medium for a complaint (and also removing poor Facebook reviews to boot) is probably a welcome respite for individual pub managers who are no doubt fed up of responding to disgruntled patrons firing off barbed comments online.

I imagine its Twitter page was also regularly roasted thank to its owner’s pro-Brexit stance. Sticking your political colours to the mast is a risky move for a brand, as, generally, it’s instantly divisive. It does sometimes pay off if you strike the right chord, however by stepping into the Brexit minefield, especially on left-leaning Twitter where the Leave vote is widely reviled, you’re setting yourself up for some serious trolling.

Now, I have no empirical evidence for this, and it could be considered a sweeping generalisation, but I’d hazard a guess that the majority of Wetherspoons’ customers are the hard-pressed working class, from where the pro-Brexit groundswell came. By removing the chatter of the so-called liberal classes on social media, Wetherspoons can ignore any Brexit dissent aimed its way and continue focusing on pouring pints for its traditional customer base.

An interesting move then, and possibly a PR stunt that might eventually be reversed, but it’s one that I don’t really see harming the Wetherspoons brand in the long term.