Should your business dump social media?

Written by: Dave Waller Posted: 02/08/2018

Bl57_social mediaGetting it right on social can be a minefield – and getting it wrong can be costly for businesses. So should you ‘do a Wetherspoons’ and drop it altogether?

It was a sunny Monday in April this year when JD Wetherspoon, the discount pub chain, dropped its bombshell. Not that it was selling a burger and a pint for £1, but that it was daring to do the unthinkable – ditch social media. 

Its outspoken Chairman, Tim Martin, made the announcement, citing the “current bad publicity surrounding social media, including the trolling of MPs and others”. With that, down went Facebook (100,000 followers) and Twitter (44,000) for the chain’s 900 pubs. 

Martin added that it was “becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion”. That may sound rich coming from a chain selling cut-price booze from 8am, but his announcement does point towards another interesting question: do businesses have a social media problem that’s got out of control too. 

Adam Riddell, PR Director at Crystal PR, says the Wetherspoons decision is encouraging. “You hear a lot about how well social media works for a business, and some quite remarkable figures are thrown around regarding followers, likes and retweets,” he says. 

“But such vanity metrics can mean very little. What matters is seeing what they mean to your objectives. Here’s a CEO who’s come out and looked at what social media actually brings to his business and is taking a view. That’s quite interesting.”

There must be plenty of other businesses out there using social media and still struggling to work out quite why. So, should they see Wetherspoons as leading them towards a brave new world beyond social feeds? Perhaps not. 

Story-telling tool

Tara Thompson is a Senior Account Manager at That Lot, a London-based agency handling social media for everyone from TV channels and chicken chains to banks and B&Q. She points out that social media remains an effective tool for companies of all kinds. 

“If you’re Channel 4 and Nando’s, it’s very easy to employ clever joke-tellers and adopt a more approachable tone. We’ve had amazing numbers from Channel 4, which is now targeting more people than it would through TV ads. 

“But we work with banks and charities too. They may need a more delicate approach, but they can still tell a captivating story and start conversations in a way that’s interesting and appealing.”

These stories can be told in a number of ways. An insurance company selling policies to home or car owners has a clear market on social media. But so do those selling captive insurance or reinsurance schemes, who can target new markets via professional platforms like LinkedIn. 

Any company looking to deal with feedback effectively should at least consider social media – done well, it’s the quickest, most effective way to have a genuine two-way conversation with customers. Anyone looking to recruit in a competitive market like the Channel Islands should do so too. 

“Social platforms provide a good opportunity to show off your company culture,” says Chris Chilton, Managing Director of Operations at Orchard PR. “And this is owned media – you don’t need to convince a paper to run a feature on your grad scheme; you can make your own video and host it.”

Or, of course, you could do a Wetherspoons. Tim Martin believes the company’s customers will fare just fine with its Wetherspoons News newsletter, its website, and by “speaking to the manager of a pub”. It’s hard not to see that as a refreshing strategy, and the chain certainly didn’t have to wait long before it was tested.

A few weeks after Wetherspoons announced its social media blackout, it was back in the news again – customers were apparently furious that the chain had taken a third of its dishes off its summer menu without warning. 

If Wetherspoons customers really do get that wound up about hot dogs, it may have been useful to soften the fallout by making it into a conversation – at least the company didn’t have to deal with a load of flak on Twitter or Facebook, which is a genuine concern for many businesses. 

Another issue is that unforgiving followers so often jump on innocent mistakes. There are countless examples, the most recent being Thameslink. In May, a rail passenger tweeted a photo showing all the service cancellations, along with his twist on the famous old Ferrero Rocher advert: ‘With these services you’re really spoiling us’. 

Thameslink’s response was a swift apology with a sense of humour, conceding that the incident was less Ferrero Rocher, more ‘Poundland chocolate’. Poundland quickly found out, of course, and sent a snarky response. And both companies duly ended up in the news.

It’s all very silly and does make you question whether it’s worth all the bother. But social media also happens to be the best tool for controlling such fallout if it does happen. “If there’s a problem and you leave an information gap, it will get filled – by conjecture and rumour,” says Nichole Culverwell, Director at Guernsey-based communications agency Black Vanilla.

“Or you can use social media to communicate your messages quickly and well. You can’t do that if you’re not on it in the first place.”

Choosing the right platform

There’s no denying that social media can be a tricky thing to get right, and that it takes time and resources. But it’s not enough to set up a Facebook page and then complain when it’s not doing anything. 

Success hinges on strategy. You have to know what you’re trying to achieve, and exactly how social media is going to help you do so. Are you trying to sell things, or show you’re an expert in a subject area? 

Each channel does different things. Instagram favours photos and video, LinkedIn gathers opinion. While a law firm wouldn’t use Facebook to promote corporate services, for example, it may want to use it to talk about its role in the community. 

“On TV, you wouldn’t put your ad on at 11pm during a film if you wanted to target kids,” says Chilton. “And you don’t target IT professionals with an ad in Horse & Hound. Where’s your audience and what are they looking at? If they want sneakers, they’re on Snapchat, not Facebook. If it’s corporate decision-makers, they’re looking at LinkedIn, not Instagram.”

Only once you’ve answered the strategic questions – which you have to do whether you’re using social media or not – can you really start to think about delivery. 

“None of this is by accident,” says Culverwell. “It’s all research, content planning and creation; then implementation and measuring; then learning and changing and trying again. Social media allows you to do that. You can be constantly measuring and refining your approach. 

“In the old days of TV and print, we’d run an A campaign and a B campaign, and repeat the most successful one. That involved spending a lot of money. The technique is the same on social media – and results may come much cheaper and faster.” 

Both Culverwell and Riddell point out that social media is just one part of a wider communications strategy, one that takes in a mix of paid (paying to be on a platform), earned (editorial), shared (content spread among third parties) and owned (your own content platforms, such as websites, brochures and Wetherspoons News). 

“It’s not about ditching social media,” says Riddell. “That’s too simplistic. There’s now an increasingly blurred line between traditional and social media. And business needs to be looking at this wider framework these days.”

If you look at that framework and decide it’s not for you, you don’t have to take the Wetherspoons approach. “Surely anything’s better than deleting your account,” says Thompson. “Go rogue, go a bit crazy, and see what you can do with it instead.”

Socially awkward

Here are five telltale signs that you haven’t mastered social media:
1. You don’t actually know who you’re talking to on social media, or why. 
2. Your company is running a lot of social channels without a coherent strategy connecting them. 
3. You’ve put an intern in charge. Your social feeds will present your company to the public, so it’s not a job to be palmed off with no planning or supervision. 
4. You’ve buried your head in the sand. If someone highlights a flaw in your service, you have to respond promptly. If you don’t, it’s a missed opportunity to appear onside with your customers at the very least. 
5. You’re on social media because you’re scared of what would happen if you weren’t. 

 


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