Having deleted its mailing lists following breaches, thus easing its path to GDPR compliance, UK pub major JD Wetherspoon has taken the unexpected step of shutting down its social media accounts, stating that not only did its social media outreach not work, but also because it felt that the usage of social media entailed misuse of personal data.
So - does your social media bring more business than the security risk it creates?
Neither Wetherspoon's headquarter nor any of its 900 pubs across the UK will use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to reach out to customers, to promote new offers, or to book delivery orders. A search of Wetherspoon's official Twitter account now reveals a blank page with the message: "We deleted our social media because we didn't believe it worked."
This isn't the first time that Wetherspoon took radical measures to revolutionise its engagement with customers. In June last year, the pub chain deleted its entire mailing list and announced that it wouldn't send out newsletters to customers anymore as it thought that the approach "was too intrusive". It added that rather than sending out newsletters, it would release news stories on its website.
The pub chain made a similar announcement yesterday, stating that rather than using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, it would release news stories and information about forthcoming events on its website and in its printed magazine.
"We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business. We were also concerned that pub managers were being side-tracked from the real job of serving customers. I don't believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever," said Wetherspoon's chairman Tim Martin to the BBC.
Aside from the fact that social media outreach campaigns often did not deliver desired results, Martin said that Wetherspoon is also doing its bit to encourage the society to restrict social media consumption as restricted usage would make people "mentally and physically better off".
"I find most people I know waste their time on it. A lot of them say they know they waste their time on it, but they struggle to get off it," he added.
Even though Wetherspoon has moved away from social media to curb the "misuse of customer data" and has turned its website into a primary source of information for customers, it remains to be seen if the firm has taken the steps required to comply with GDPR which is a little more than a month away from implementation.
For instance, in June 2015, Wetherspoon's website suffered a major security breach that compromised names, email addresses, dates of birth, and phone numbers of 656,723 customers. Such details, that also included limited credit/debit card information, were not encrypted, resulting in the breach. The compromised website was subsequently replaced with a new one before the firm decided to voluntarily delete email addresses of all customers.
What also remains to be seen is whether Wetherspoon will be able to cope with the sudden shift away from social media and if it will be able to market its offers effectively, as the visibility of such offers will be dependant on the number of customers visiting its website on their own. The firm's self-imposed ban on sending out newsletters may also play a part in reducing its visibility, at least in the short run.
However, Evgeny Chereshnev, CEO and founder of Biolink.Tech, told SC Magazine UK that businesses are not as dependent on social media platforms as they think they are and that such platforms are definitely not the only bridges between businesses and customers.
"There are numerous examples of companies being weak or absent across social media and still remaining insanely successful at the same time. Apple, for example, has never run contests or produced a huge amount of content for Facebook and it is still able to sell billions of devices. Same with Google, Tesla or SpaceX…and the list goes on," he said.
He added that a lot of businesses are simply wasting their time and money on social media platforms as very little content out of thousands of posts they churn out every day is of real value to customers.
"The truth is, when you are a company that has something truly unique and valuable to say, people will always find a way to get in touch with you. They either will come to your blog or get information from a traditional source like a well-known and trusted media outlet."
"Is Instagram popular by being active on Instagram itself? Is Tesla's US$ 50 billion (£35 billion) valuation the result of having an amazing Facebook page? Are people eating McDonald's food because they do an amazing job promoting themselves via YouTube? The answer is no. Even with no SM channels, or limited activity on SM channels, every business can be popular. All it needs is the right digital strategy based on true values, not tools of execution," he added.