Sam Bettis
Sam Bettis 10 May 2018

Switching off from social: Is it customer centric or self-serving?

Recently pub chain J D Wetherspoon announced that it was quitting social media because “people spend too much time on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram”. This idea of “switching off” is a common discourse in current culture and recent headlines around the handling of personal data by social media platforms have only added fuel to the fire.

Several brands have even used the idea of breaking free from the tyranny of devices as a rich creative territory, producing successful executions. Most notably – Durex’s excellent #DoNotDisturb campaign, a digital detox social experiment, which saw the brand sending six couples on holiday, aiming to show how the extraction of digital devices can help couples connect on holiday. Even Nokia got in on the act, imploring people to switch off for Christmas last year (but only for Christmas though!).

In light of J D Wetherspoon’s announcement, we put our heads together to reassess the role that social media plays in the lives of consumers and whether switching off actually serves their best interests.

Is social media really bad for your health?

Social media, like cheap alcohol and microwavable burgers, should be taken in moderation. There’s no doubt that social platforms aren’t always the most productive tools when it comes to personal time management and efficiency, but they’re also not inherently evil, like some commenters would have you believe. Facebook alone has connected 2 billion people around the world, with 42% of them using it to keep in touch with friends and family. Research even suggests that there are great emotional benefits for anxious users who post about their wellbeing. Similarly Twitter has done a vast amount of work to understand how it’s facilitating discovery of new information and broadening the horizons of its users.

While the negative outcomes of spending too much time on social media are clear, we shouldn’t dismiss the ways that social media can be harnessed for good. Remember the Ice Bucket challenge? The ALS Association reported an additional $41M of funding in one month, all because of the power of social media.

The Bottom Line

J D Wetherspoon has controversially reported that deleting its social media pages will have no impact whatsoever on its bottom line, which seems to be missing the point about the role that brands play in the social media landscape. In fact, talking about “social media” as a singular entity is misleading in itself. What we’re referring to is a set of online platforms that people use for a number of reasons, whether it’s talking to friends, keeping up with the news, seeking customer service or getting inspired for their next purchase. 80% of Twitter users, for instance, have mentioned a brand in a tweet, with 77% of people on Twitter saying they feel more positive about a brand after they’ve interacted with it on the platform.

Brands clearly have an important role to play in the social media landscape and this isn’t limited to soft metrics like awareness and engagement. For instance, Facebook’s ad platform  is constantly evolving to facilitate social selling and ASOS was recently able to boost its orders three times through the platform, earning a 2.5 ROI due to its richly personalised retargeting.

Customer or self-centricity

On closing their social pages, J D Wetherspoon advised that customers could still get customer service help through their website – or even through speaking to someone on site. But while they labelled their decision to step away from social media as a customer-centric decision, it could also be seen as an obstacle in the customer journey. Without the fast-track to customer service that social media platforms provide, it’s possible that customers will be left feeling frustrated and J D Wetherspoon will suffer from unfavourable comparisons to competitors.

Brand Protection

J D Wetherspoon will never completely disappear from social media. Even if they’re not posting themselves, their customers will still be posting about them. The only difference is that they have less ability to influence the conversation any more. By completely removing themselves from social media, J D Wetherspoon has left its brand vulnerable to unmitigated negative sentiment.  Being active on social leaves a brand ready to respond and react if a crisis does arise – disgruntled customers can do a lot of damage, so a brand needs to be able to offer solutions, and quickly.

There are many ways that social media can connect businesses with brands, from driving positive sentiment around new product launches to serving customers’ needs and driving sales. And while no social media platform is perfect, brands should take a holistic view of the functions of each individual platform and the role they can play within their brand marketing strategies.

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