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Social shutdown: Is JD Wetherspoon right that businesses don’t need social media?

by on 16th April 2018

UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon today announced it’s shutting down all of its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Its Facebook page for its Saltoun Inn, which has been liked 2,189 times, had an average engagement rate over the last year of 0.67 percent. The most popular post from that page over the last year was a recruitment post made on the 3rd July, 2017, that attracted 64 total interactions.

Overall, the brand maintains hundreds of social media accounts and it states the decision has been made as a result of abuse directed towards MPs and other social media users.

Tim Martin, Chairman of Wetherspoon, said “We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business”.

Mr. Martin also told the BBC he believes the notion that social is essential for advertising or marketing is untrue.

Is he right?

A number of the world’s largest advertisers have expressed suspicions about the usefulness of digitial advertising and social media in a commercial context in recent years.

Procter and Gamble, one of the world’s largest advertisers, cut $200 million from its digital advertising spend last year, while Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, has threatened to pull budget from platforms he deems “create division in society” or “promote anger or hate”.

Meanwhile, Australian research firm Sensis recently found (PDF) that the primary reason 89 percent of social media users utilize social platforms is to “interact with family and friends,” while only 18 percent stated they use social media to “follow or find out about particular brands or businesses”.

Moreover, our recent research found that the average engagement rate for the world’s top 100 brands on Facebook is 0.12 percent.

Looking at each individual sector, “fast food” performed best overall with an average engagement rate of 0.42 percent while retail and e-commerce pages on Facebook performed worst overall with an average engagement rate of 0.005 percent.

According to research by Wolfgang Digital in 2016 (PDF), Facebook contributes 2 percent of revenue to e-commerce websites while Google organic search contributes 41 percent.

For a brand like JD Wetherspoon, deleting social media accounts at this point could also be viewed as the perfect public relations opportunity.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, in response to a tweet by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton, recently announced the deletion of Tesla’s Facebook page. Tesla’s page accounted for an average engagement rate of 0.18 percent over the last year.

Mr. Musk’s decision, as per the decision made by JD Wetherspoon today, comes in the midst of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enduring endless scrutiny from journalists and public officials about alleged electoral interference and user privacy.

With so much focus on Facebook, any move by any brand in relation to its social media presence will inevitably generate endless amounts of media coverage.

There’s very little opportunity cost for brands but potentially significant rewards.

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