Antisocial behaviour in JD Wetherspoon - William Murray

JD Wetherspoon today closed down all its social media accounts – both those related to its head office and those of its individual pubs, which number almost 900 across the UK.

Chairman and founder Tim Martin cited concerns around trolling, personal data, and the addictive nature of platforms.

Now call us cynical, but we’ve got a few other thoughts on the motive…

It’s a stunt (a good one)

The chain is certainly no stranger to sudden and controversial announcements. Remember when they scrapped roast dinners?

And this one will likely go down very well with lots of its regulars. Go to any JD Wetherspoon in the country on a Wednesday afternoon, walk up to the first chap you see, and ask him what his Instagram handle is. If he’s got one, we’ll eat his flat cap*.

Among core Wetherspoon customers, sending social media the way of EU directives on the bendiness of bananas will be roundly applauded. Not to mention widely covered in traditional media – no doubt a more effective communication medium among aforementioned flat-capped chaps.

They’re worried about controlling social at site level

The team at Wetherspoon may well have genuine concerns about addiction and personal data breaches. However, for our money, the real fear factor is around individual pubs causing the chain bad PR with ill-advised activity or bad management.

It’s a common concern, which we always address in the same way. People are going to have conversations about your brand online, whether you’re online or not. So why wouldn’t you want the ability to monitor and influence what’s being said?

The task is no doubt more complicated when you’re talking about hundreds of individual accounts that aren’t managed centrally, but not impossible. It comes down to good social media governance and process – putting some checks and balances in place to maintain control of what goes up, without having to micromanage.

Frankly, they’re not very good at it anyway…

And of course, they might just be calling it a day because they’re not very good at it. Until announcing its closure, the chain’s central Twitter account hadn’t posted at all in April. And it had just over 44,000 followers before coming down. That might sound like a lot, but works out at less than 50 followers per pub.

Commenting on the closure, Tim Martin said “I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers.”

This is perhaps an unsurprising answer from busy pub managers – burdened with the additional and potentially unfamiliar responsibility of managing their pub’s social media accounts, but there we go.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe the typical Wetherspoon customer is not particularly fussed with social, so Wetherspoon needn’t be either. And as long he has no designs on the chain outliving the typical Wetherspoon goer, that makes sense…

But the typical Wetherspoon goer is changing, and will continue to change. You only need to look at stories like this to see that at least some of its customers are ready and willing to engage on social media, even if it’s with mischievous intent!

The bottom line is, when used properly, social media can be a highly effective tool to generate positive PR, manage negative stories spiralling out of control, and to engage with customers.

We suspect Mr Martin knows this. And we suspect we’ve not yet seen the last of JD Wetherspoon on social media, in one form or another. And in the meantime, it certainly got people talking.

Social media specialists. That’s what we bring to the table. Want to pull up a chair?

We won’t really eat any flat caps – flat caps are yucky and we take food and drink very seriously indeed

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