JD Wetherspoon closing its social account is just peeing in the wind

It's perplexing a brand that considers itself pioneering like JD Wetherspoon doesn't fully embrace the most pioneering media of them all - digital - argues Zone's client creative director.

Did you know that the most common name for a Wetherspoon's pub - Moon Under The Water - is named after George Orwell’s ideal freehouse?

I remember discussing this fact one dank Saturday morning in Manchester city centre, in the very pub of that name, sitting pint-in-hand next to a man in his 40s dressed as a inflatable (but as yet flaccid) penis. I also remember his ring tone was the chorus from Kenny Loggins’ Top Gun anthem - Danger Zone.

My memory turned to this moment yesterday when Wetherspoon's owner Tim Martin announced that he was shutting down all the social media accounts of his 900-odd pubs and that of his main brand. That’s dangerous, I thought.

Tim’s stated reasoning behind this decision was confusing.

"It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion," he opined.

Have Wetherspoon's customers been too busy faffing around on their phones in the pubs to take up the mouthwatering 2-4-1 deals on Mexican Mondays (RIP) or something? I wondered.

Are their customers really choosing to spend their free time pouring over Instagram shots of bottled beers on beaches rather than tread the cult carpets of his establishments?

What else could be eating Tim’s lunch?

As an Orwell appropriator, he’ll no doubt remember that a key characteristic of George’s preferred pub is one that is "obliging about letting you use the telephone". And ‘Spoons makes a big deal about its free wi-fi nowadays too. They also sell their app pretty hard.

So this decision to shut down their social handles seems a bit gammony to say the least.

Perhaps he should instead invest in channels his customers evidently prefer?

And if he’s actively enabling smartphone functionality in his pubs, perhaps he could think more creatively about how to use that to his advantage and to give his customers a better experience?

As good as it might be, there will be other things his customers use their phones for, away from his app.

"We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business" he stated, yet that not only smacks of the "we’ve had enough of experts" mantra from another campaign Tim had his hand in, but is arguably outright disrespectful to his own customers and their clear preferences.

It doesn’t really add up. Maybe there’s another reason behind this sudden rug-pulling.

In another sense, you can understand how brands like Wetherspoons struggle with the empathy wells and editorial skill required to deal with complaints via social.

They get gradually and excruciatingly worn down.

The transparency of reviewing functions like the one Facebook offers can’t help them either. If you’re not trying to win on quality of experience, you need to hope for some serious leeway on the part of your customers.

But how often to you get that on reviewing sites?

It’s actually a shame that Wetherspoons doesn’t try to engage their customers on social with the same kind of strong personality and tone that they’ve used in their free magazine. The letters page always used to contain witty and social-appropriate zingers in response to customer questions and comments.

And just a quick scroll through the brand mentions on Twitter and Facebook throws up a multitude of golden opportunities for self-aware, pithy and on-brand comment that would surely curry great organic favour (sorry not sorry) across the social space.

It’s also perplexing that a brand that considers itself pioneering (putting pubs on motorways, putting on an opera in a pub, introducing front-of-house self-service stations) doesn’t fully embrace the most pioneering media of them all - digital.

Tim was recently invited to be a guest on Desert Island Discs. For a man who banned music in his pubs (to be fair, again on Orwellian advice), his choices were thought provoking. But he did also say one thing he might live to regret given the culling of social handles into the drip-tray of history; "If you are going to launch a business, you need persistence and the ability to listen."


But you could say exactly the same thing about putting your brand on social media.

Matthew Pink is client creative director of Zone 


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