This article focuses on whether social media is a viable option for your business. Amidst the kerfuffle surrounding Brexit, rumours are circulating that JD Wetherspoon’s boss, Tim Martin, may be awarded with a gong for his services to the ‘Leave’ side of the conversation. This has reminded me that in 2018, Mr. Martin suddenly closed off JD Wetherspoon social media accounts with immediate effect. This was last April, and generated significant incredulity, mainly on social media! Many thought it was a publicity stunt to be reversed under pressure from their reported 150,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. However, having just checked both platforms, there is no sign of the brand on either – other than a mischievous parody.

Whilst there was mention of issues around trolling and personal data concerns at the time, withdrawal was clearly an active, calculated decision rather than a reluctant retreat.  I remember admiring this stance; and I still do. Whilst this move would not be appropriate or rational for all businesses, it could be for many. If I had a pound for every organisation I find expending time and effort on social media with no clear plan, tone or rationale, I’d start my own pub chain!

The cliché we most regularly encounter among the professional services and SME sectors we primarily support is when managements delegate responsibility for social media to a ‘millennial’ employee because ‘they know what they’re doing’. This typically develops in two ways. In some cases, the owner/manager continues to tell the employee what to do with little or no understanding of the platforms. In others, their ‘delegation’ of responsibility declines to the point of ‘abdication’, and the employee posts content with no idea of the Business Plan and growth strategy. Or, worse still, they post ‘amusing’ content…

Reasons to assess your social media output

Here is a short guide to why you may like to consider Wetherspoon’s example.

  • You could be in the wrong sector or business type to benefit from social media, or your chosen platforms may be inappropriate.
  • You might not have a strategy for each chosen platform and therefore create content that undermines your aims.
  • Your employees do not have time to generate consistent, useful content that is on-brand and on-strategy (or no agency to scope or manage it).
  • No trained employees in place to respond to posts, or an agency to do so. Unlike traditional ‘one way’ media, social media is a conversation.  If you can’t engage with those who engage with you, investment is counterproductive.
  • If your business is designed to serve a local community, of, for example, 30 miles radius, then ‘offline’ marketing is vital. Prior to the proliferation of ‘engagement marketing’ across the internet, leading brands leveraged ‘advocacy marketing’. This encourages friends and family to promote services to each other in kitchens, hairdressers, pubs and clubs, which confers huge trust. Conversely, we all know that social media ‘engagement marketing’ includes mass exploitation by charlatans spreading fake news via click bait or surreptitiously gathering user data to devious and fraudulent ends. We are therefore naturally cautious of online promotion.

Effective use of social media

My key point is that the efficacy of communication with prospects and customers depends upon what you say and how you say it. Without these fundamentals, the channels used are irrelevant. With a methodical strategy and sufficient resource to deliver consistent, useful content and to engage with followers, social media can be ideally suited to develop a competitive advantage for many organisations. But without the context and conviction required to do it properly, it can be a waste of time and money…

Despite a reported 18 UK pubs closing every week in a sadly declining sector, Tim Martin has vigorously built an exceptional group of 900 pubs since his first in 1979, providing 37,000 jobs. Having understood pre-digital communication, he can see beyond the tempting, if gaudy allure of social media. Wetherspoons now connects with its fans using their website and a good, some-say ‘old fashioned’, printed magazine: Wetherspoon News. Whilst not a lesson for everyone, food for thought for many.