Social media has taken a bit of a hit in the last few months. However, even with the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data scandal piling more distrust on channels already tarnished with not doing enough to battle hate content and online abuse, social media is still seen as the future of communications. So when Wetherspoon announced last month that it is closing their social media channels, many in the comms world scoffed at the out-dated thinking. But when you drill down into the numbers, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea.
Wetherspoon being anti-Social
At the time of quitting, Wetherspoon had a widespread social presence including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts for all their individual pubs, as well as some of their carpets. Across all these accounts, their average post in 2018 gathered just six retweets and four likes, compare this to the 3 million pints they pour every week and it is hard not to see a disconnect between the cost of managing these accounts and the outputs. Wetherspoon’s chairman Tim Martins makes a good point that as a society we are becoming more reliant on social media, but the real practicality behind Wetherspoon’s withdrawal is from a business perspective rather than a social one.
Value of social
For businesses looking at Wetherspoon and deciding if they should be doing the same, you need to take a look at your own brand and company first. Wetherspoon recognised that they were not getting a significant ROI on their social media efforts and decided to cut costs. There may be many other businesses in a similar situation, noticeably many spirits brands are pulling away from social media of late, either through closing accounts or letting them become inactive.
But, for many brands social channels like Facebook give them access to a huge market that they otherwise would not be exposed to. Many local small businesses, especially in the hospitality trade generate a significant volume of business through social media. It is arguably the most powerful communications tool since the television, with Facebook claiming 2.2 billion monthly unique users in 2017, so if you are creating a communications plan, social should be considered right alongside traditional media relations and marketing.
The true value from social comes through constant engagement with your target audience. You are able to build your brand a personality through your tone of voice, the images and GIFs you use and the content you share. This can create a real affinity and trust with your consumers which can be leveraged in times when that trust is shaken.
Choosing the right channels
Wetherspoon made the decision to consolidate their communications to traditional media relations and their in-house magazine. They are able to do this as they have created sufficient brand awareness in the pub sector so that when they are communicating their target audience is listening. They also recognise that their customers were not engaging with their brand through social media and that their dispersed and fragmented social efforts were not resonating with their customers.
When used effectively, social channels can be utilised to specifically target audiences with an amazing level of granularity – unmatched by any other communications channel – to give your messages to the right people.
Alternatively, a neglected or poorly managed channel can harm your image. A prospective client who looks on your LinkedIn to see if you really are a “thought leader” in your sector and sees the last post was five months ago does not take away your desired impression. Then there are the PR stunts that can backfire, just ask Gary Lineker to hold up a picture for Walkers Crisps and chaos ensues. If you do have a channel, it must be managed constantly and pro-actively, and you must consider budgets accordingly.
Social in a crisis
The immediacy of social channels like Twitter give you an excellent ability to respond directly to consumers, stakeholders and the media in a short space of time. Sharing images of statements is common place, just look at any official press office profile as an example. Social can help appease situations before they become larger issues, take the National Rail channels which are very active in solving customer complaints before they become larger issues. A crisis is a period when you can leverage the audience that you have built and communicate with them in a direct and unmediated way to lessen the impact upon your brand.
On the flip side, social media can be a source of negative sentiment and bad news can rapidly spread far and wide leaving the affected party with little control of the narrative. You are vulnerable on social media to other users posting largely unchecked, and if you are not actively monitoring the situation this can bring about more headaches.
So should I be Social?
It is important to recognise two important factors that may have led to Wetherspoon’s cutting social ties. Firstly, the majority of Wetherspoon’s brand recognition has already been created. Its customers know what they are getting – cheap alcohol – and are not likely to be drawn away by another rival chain because of a witty tweet or image of a freshly poured pint. Secondly, this was a business decision about how to deploy resources most effectively. When assessing your own channels you must consider who are you trying to reach and whether you are using the right platforms to reach them. Then ultimately you must decide what you believe is a good return on investment. Cut loose if you must, but make sure you consider the opportunities and possibilities you lose by doing so.