Yesterday’s news that JD Wetherspoon, one of the country’s leading pub chain groups, has withdrawn entirely from social media, has sent somewhat of a shockwave around social media types.
First reports appeared to suggest it was due to a reaction to the misdemeanours of some of their pubs/franchisees in treating local MPs (and others) poorly. But they have managed to turn the decision into a much wider debate around social media in society.
The Wetherspoon chairman, Tim Martin, told BBC News that society would be better off if Brits cut their social media use and that the Group had concerns regarding “the addictive nature of social media”. Which is undoubtedly a thing we should be concerned about. And also, I assume, means that JD will be switching off customer WiFi soon too to help society get over its problems….*
There are also suggestions that Wetherspoons are using this as a slight smokescreen having been placed under investigation for its use of Facebook data as an official participant on the Vote Leave side of the Brexit referendum. Last year, they deleted their customer database (ahead of GDPR) suggesting they’d be sticking to using social media to share content/offers.
But leaving Brexity-stuff well aside, let’s focus on the social media aspect of this. This widely played-out discussion is bound to cause problems for those of us trying to lead the use of social in businesses. The “If it’s bad for them, it must be bad for us” type of thing.
So what do we do about it?
It will certainly focus the need to talk about “social” in business terms. If employees or pub managers are “wasting time” as Mr Martin says, then they aren’t doing the right activities to help the business in achieving its goals. In JD Wetherspoon’s case there could be any number of business goals which you could legitimately use social media to help meet. Off the top of my head, 1) Attracting footfall into pubs and 2) attracting future employees, 3) retaining existing employees, 4) telling the “Wetherspoon’s community” story (venues for community groups, charity works etc). If a piece of activity doesn’t do something that helps meet those goals – which help the business do business – then they shouldn’t be doing it.
Have a strategy agreed at Board level
I don’t know the company at all (apart from as a customer), or anyone who works there. But the sweeping statement by the Chairman suggests that they didn’t have a written and board-agreed social media strategy. Or, they had a strategy but they didn’t have enough sway or control on how the wider business was implementing and monitoring it. This confirms, if it is needed, a major issue that’s presented in the CIPR State of the Profession 2018 Report. This year’s report again highlights the lack of strategic thinking, or PR/Comms representation, at board-level in the UK.
Having a comms professional, or at least a ‘qualified’ advocate who understands comms issues around the top table is crucial. I’m pleased to have worked in places where that representation was there, either by job title or by experience/mindset, but it would worry me if a big decision like this were being made without expert opinion in the room. Here’s a recent blog about my strategy journey.
Two ears, one mouth…
Whether you’re on social or not, your/our customers will be. So, as companies, we need to be listening to what is being said about us – good and/or bad. As Andrew Grill says, “Social media is the biggest focus group you’ll never have to pay for”. Makes sense to see what conversations about your brand/industry/issue are going on and how you meet customers needs/questions.
It’s been clear since the news broke that social media governance has been lacking. They blamed rogue pubs/employees for their social media posts. They also failed to lock down the ownership of the company twitter profile (which briefly changed from @JDWTweet to @JDWTwats by the disgruntled employees/agency behind it) before the news was announced.
Having governance processes, social monitoring and listening tools all helps a hub/HQ/Head Office, keep an eye on the spokes of the operation. It appears that they didn’t have effective means of seeing what their pubs/accounts were up to and deal with any issues that cropped up. So they’re clamping down now.
My view – give them a year to get a strategy together, understand how best to drive business results from social, sort governance and get structures in place and they’ll be back in the social scene again.
* WiFi is now a customer attraction point. So they can come to pubs. And share their experiences. On social media. Social media helps their bottom line….