You're barred! Spoons calls time on social media

By Elisabeth Field

17th April 2018

I quite like a bold move. Decisive, determined, independent.

Eddie Gershon seems to have that in spades, as he steers his client J D Wetherspoon through the “interesting” decision to remove the brand from all social media.

As someone who runs an agency which specialises in comms strategy, you’ll forgive me for having an opinion on this boldness.

Eddie has an opinion, too. He doesn’t like Twitter. Fair enough.

But who cares what Eddie likes? Our job is not to like the platforms, but to understand why other people do, and to help our clients utilise them in the best way for their business.

I’ll be the first person at the party when print media has its resurgence.

When subscriptions start to increase, fuelled by a return to print advertising that funds our Fourth Estate, I’ll be there holding the door open, handing out the non-female friendly Doritos.

But that’s because I’m weird.

I still buy too many newspapers every weekend, and arguments with the other half about who gets what bit first is part of the weekly rhythm of my life. But I do that because I’m of that generation.

That’s the generation which finds enjoyment in the physical touch and certainty of print, where words are thoughtfully committed and not easily deleted. Where the physical experience of flipping, turning, folding (ggrrr) and moving add another layer to the enjoyment the words create.

But it’s also a generation that lives in the world of digital dominance, where social platforms have penetrated our day to day habits.

Brands today must deal with a reality where print newspapers are declining and social media is increasing. A reality where 66 per cent of the UK public goes to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat to interact–an increase of 5 per cent from last year. And yes, online news channels are fighting to thrive, but how do you drive readers there?

I have no doubt I spend too much of my time on my mobile—scrolling, posting, retweeting. But mostly I just watch. I read. I follow. I gain insight into what entertains people, what scares people, what motivates people.

Much is being said about the problems of social media; Facebook and its faceless scheming to rob us of our data souls.

And yes, the bullies love the anonymity social media provides: brand hijacking, Twitter trolls stirring up fake news frenzies. Any person or brand who doesn’t adopt a smart, educated and nuanced approach in how it chooses to interact on any social channel will be all the poorer for it. There are too many examples which demonstrate this, perhaps to Mr Gershon’s point.

But from what I’ve seen, for every horrid story exemplifying the wrongs of social media, there are just as many great ones.

I lost my six-year-old son on the ski slopes this weekend. It was the longest hour and a half of my life. He was found, shaken but sound thanks to a French woman who helped him down the slope and steered him to safety.

How did I show my thanks to that anonymous French woman whom I would never meet, and the local authorities who searched for him?

Twitter.

How do we congregate a protest march, to demonstrate our hopes and fears?

How do we send our love across the world when tragedy strikes?

How do we celebrate great triumphs?

How do we attract interest and action to fund scientific breakthroughs that make a lasting impact on people’s lives?

Social media has a multiple of sins and too many sinners. But there are saints there too, looking to share, to laugh, to support.

Facebook, Twitter and their peers are the digital public houses of today, where people come to share the good and the bad. This too will change. Their visitor numbers will probably decline as people move to new places that better suit their changing appetites. And yes, changing algorithms and data mining mean it’s no place for naivety.

But there will always be flux in popularity of all modes of communication.

Look at the empty phone boxes littering the country.

This is a time when the number of pubs in Britain has fallen to its lowest in a decade, where we have seen up to 33,000 pubs close a year. Who shoulders that blame? The younger generations, apparently, who would rather sit and update their social profiles with a cup of tea than meet for a beverage in a pub.

And yet we know this isn’t the full picture. We work with beer and spirit brands, where social media plays a crucial role in their commercial success.

Brands today must be prepared to go where their audience is. Whether we as comms practitioners like that place or not, is irrelevant. Brand managers and comms professionals must be smart; too many separate channels, an inconsistent tone of voice, no strategic approach and dull content is a recipe for disaster.

So good luck to Wetherspoon and its latest attempt to protect its brand.

As the statistics show us: you can lead people to the high street, but that won’t make them drink.