A couple of months back, Tim Martin, Wetherspoons’ founder and chairman, announced he was calling last orders on his company’s social media activities. He cited concern about its addictiveness and the damage it was causing society – perhaps a little mischievous coming from the nation’s biggest pub landlord. More revealingly, he also said pulling out would make not one iota of difference to his business. He’s right about that: social media was irrelevant to Wetherspoons, but perhaps not for the reasons he thinks. Social media was irrelevant to Wetherspoons only because Wetherspoons had become irrelevant to audiences on social media.
In fairness to Wetherspoons though, it’s never been easier to be irrelevant on social media. These days feeds are such fiercely competitive places that the likelihood of a brand engaging a follower with a social post is around 50:1 against. And of course a presence on social media brings its own special headaches. Replying to those disgruntled customers, oddballs and haters letting everyone in the world know exactly what they think about you takes time. You might make an innocent gaffe and get caught in a storm, much as Dove did recently. Or you might even spectacularly misjudge the mood, as the Victorian Taxi Association managed a few years back. I expect, in the end, Tim Martin and his team concluded that this social media lark was a whole lot of bother, all for a 50:1 chance of letting some random people know that ‘Thursday night is curry night’.
So were Wetherspoons right to jack it all in? Well, they were right not to carry on doing something that takes effort and achieves nothing. Should more brands follow Wetherspoons’ example? A lot of brands would certainly benefit from being as honest with themselves as Wetherspoons were about how irrelevant their social media has become. But once they’ve made that brutal assessment, it doesn’t mean their only option is to throw in the towel. It’s not like ‘no social media’ is the only alternative to ‘ineffectual social media’. What about brilliant social media? Why not give that a try first?
Rather than look to Wetherspoons, those feeling underwhelmed by the impact of their social media could look to the brands who do it brilliantly -- brands such as PaddyPower (recent ‘England ‘til I die’ faux pas notwithstanding) , Dove, Vans and Nandos spring to mind. These brands, and many others like them, wouldn’t dream of pulling out of social media because they know it’s such a significant source of advantage for their businesses. So what do these brands, who make social work, do differently?
- They make themselves relevant to consumers every day by finding things to talk about other than themselves. Most of us have only a fleeting interest in a brand when we’re in the market for buying its products. The rest of the time we couldn’t care less. Yet some brands find ways to keep us engaged by tapping into our perennial interests. Vans has ‘action sports’, Dove has ‘body confidence’, Paddy Power has ‘football banter’ and Nandos has ‘African music, art and malaria’.
- They stick to things that they have a right to talk about. By and large we’re happy for Vans to talk about action sports or Dove to talk about body confidence because these topics are so deeply tied to the brand. It feels authentic, unlike the nicely-produced but utterly-pointless Facebook video from my bank that I stumbled upon the other week ‘wishing all its customers a happy St George’s Day’. What’s all that about?
- They understand that adding to the pile of mediocre content won’t get them anywhere. Instead, they concentrate on producing brilliant content that will cut through. This is not the same thing as spending a fortune on lavish productions, it’s about knowing your audience and putting the effort in to make it brilliant. As an example, PaddyPower does banter that’s not just good for a brand, but good full stop. It won’t be costing the company much, yet it’s so cheeky and spontaneous that it gets shared side-by-side with real banter in my football team’s Whatsapp group. Talk about breaking the third wall.
The tragedy for Wetherspoons is that it is exactly the type of brand that could and should have a brilliant and powerful social presence. More than anything, Wetherspoons stands for honesty and unpretentiousness, two virtues in desperately short supply – especially on social media. Imagine a Wetherspoons feed devoted to calling out pretentious nonsense? Wouldn’t that be just brilliant? There’s so much material, there would be loads of reasons to talk to audiences every day; very entertaining and totally on-brand. It might even prompt a few of those who think they’re above Wetherspoons to consider the alternative: that they are, in fact, just a little bit up themselves. People like myself who love a Spoons and are easily rubbed up the wrong way by pretentiousness would get right behind them, sharing their posts with pride. Folk might even start sending them their own sightings. Wetherspoons could wage war on pretension, capture the mood, start a movement and own it.
I’m thinking something with the same vibe as Celeste Barbers brilliant Instagram. Or KFC’s send-up of clean eating, complete with made up food blogger, Figgy Popplleton-Rice. Or Gregg’s brilliant “Gregory & Gregory” stunt.
And here are a few ideas for the Wetherspoons Instagram account that never was, but could have been.