The founder of JD Wetherspoon has said a decision to close all the pub chain’s social media accounts was not a publicity stunt.
The company’s move to shut Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts for its 900 outlets was greeted with widespread scepticism. Tim Martin, who is also chairman of the company, said it was a business decision because social media had become a “distraction” for the company.
“You would have to be completely off your rocker to do a publicity stunt … which banned the medium which is supposed to give you the most publicity,” he told BBC News.
Martin claimed that he was making a stand against social media because it had become a “waste of time” for him and his pubs.
“On a personal level many of us are fed up with social media and think it has got damaging effects and a lot of people are on it far far too much,” he said. “It doesn’t do them any good it doesn’t do the country any good.
He added: “The people who aren’t on social media wish that their friends weren’t either, because they seem to be obsessed by it. And people who are on it feel they can’t get off it because they are addicted.”
Asked if he could rule out rejoining social media platforms in future, Martin said: “If I have to crawl back to Facebook my goodness me that will be a catastrophe. It is not impossible, you have to keep your options open in business. But if I do it – what humiliation.”
Martin, who was a significant backer of the Vote Leave campaign, was also asked whether the controversy about the alleged use of Facebook data in the referendum had influenced his decision.
He replied: “In politics and business people vastly overestimate social media. I campaigned very vigorously for leave and I did it through writing articles, speaking to the press and the television. I think tweets and Facebook underestimate the intelligence of the public and it’s all a bit of marketing hype really.”
In a tweet that is no longer available, Martin said: “We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business. I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers.”
Martin is said to have taken the decision following recent publicity over the use of social media to criticise MPs and others, especially those from religious or ethnic minorities.
However, the chain has failed to attract much of a following online, with 44,000 followers on Twitter and 100,000 on Facebook. Much of its activity on social media has been devoted to fending off complaints.
Martin’s statement said customers could use the Wetherspoon website and app to contact the company, or speak to pub managers.
Media commentators predicted that the move would backfire.The chain has also been targeted by pro-Europeans for its support of Brexit, with calls from some to boycott its pubs.
The company has often had to deal with hoax statements posted on social media. In November last year, the company was forced to refute a claim that staff had been banned from wearing Remembrance Day poppies while at work.
Many of its 900 pubs have Facebook pages with fewer than 1,000 likes, meaning that anything they post is unlikely to be seen by users in their news feed. They are, however, still a magnet for bad reviews, which Facebook displays prominently.One pub, which has an overall star rating of 3.7, still has a review section headed “People talk about terrible service”, and both reviews on display are one-star complaints. The company’s corporate HQ location page on Facebook has also attracted one-star reviews, including one in which a customer claims that her lost glasses were retrieved from a bin.