Why would you switch off social?
It’s been a difficult couple of months for social media platforms. Facebook’s reputation has taken a big blow after the revelations about Cambridge Analytica and its misuse of users’ data. Snapchat’s latest update saw its user numbers and its stock price plummet. And every platform is having to deal with the imminent arrival of the GDPR and what that means for ongoing communications.
It’s no surprise that more people are considering giving up social media in their personal lives, but it’s somewhat more unusual to see that companies are doing the same. JD Wetherspoon recently announced that it would close all its social media accounts, a somewhat unexpected move in today’s highly digital marketing environment.
According to the chain’s founder, Tim Martin, the reason for the closure was that social media had become a “distraction” – both in people’s personal lives and for the people he employs. He also pointed out that he was aware that this was an unusual move: “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.”
When I first read the story, I thought it was a ridiculous move. I felt the conclusion about its impact was short-sighted, and that some of the reasons given were disingenuous. A public presence on social media is pretty much essential for a customer-facing organisation nowadays – even if all you’re offering is another channel of communication for your audience, you’re showing a willingness to be part of the conversation. Shutting yourself off from that can only be a hindrance to you.
But then I put on my analytical hat and thought a little more strategically about it. If I had access to the data and insights from Wetherspoons’ accounts, it would be easy to make a decision on this. The pub chain serves millions of people every week, but its social accounts (before they disappeared) didn’t come close to that kind of number. Interaction rates were low. The content was – let’s be honest – uninspired. If the audience isn’t on social, if they’re not responding to your messages, then it’s time for a rethink.
I still don’t think completely closing the accounts for every pub – and the central team – was the right move. There’s an argument that requiring every pub to run individual social media accounts is difficult when staff may not have time or ability to do so. To which the answer is not to make it compulsory. Let pubs do it if they want to, or if they’ve shown the ability to do so. Provide resources to encourage people, and training for those who want to learn more. The way Waterstones’ local accounts work are a perfect example of this – each store has a unique identify on Twitter, but they all still feel like Waterstones.
In the education sector, social is a vital part of the marketing and communications mix – but there’s still a lesson here about the time and resource we dedicate to different platforms. If we run a communications audit and find a channel isn’t serving a purpose, I have no hesitation in suggesting that it should be shut down.
We’ve probably all got accounts like that somewhere. A Twitter account that was set up years ago, with someone posting irregular updates when they can. A Facebook group that got left to its own devices because no-one had the time to manage it. An account for one of the departments that just reposts central comms messages – why do we have these? What are we doing to make them work? Could we just pull a Wetherspoons and delete them?
There’s no hard and fast rule. Ditching social media as a whole is probably a step too far, but trimming our presence? Aligning our channels to those we’re going to get the most benefit out of? Those are moves I can get behind.