British pub chain JD Wetherspoon closed down its social media accounts recently — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — unironically using Twitter to announce its departure.

Now others could make the same move in an attempt to save money and focus their business. For some though, social media has become a key part of their marketing strategy.

Despite JD Wetherspoon having 44,000 Twitter followers and more than 100,000 Facebook followers, chief executive Tim Martin said he was making a stand against “the addictive nature of social media”, describing the medium as a “waste of time” for him and his 900 outlets.

The sudden social media shutdown has caused many to question whether businesses need social media to be successful.

Social media consultant Nancy Jaeger was surprised at Wetherspoon’s decision.

She said:

Food service companies do need social media. Why wouldn’t you have social media? If you’re in control of your social media you can promote special deals and have a relationship with your customers.

Also, you can target your message at local people or groups with a special interest in your product in a way you can’t target with a blanket billboard or TV ad.

Facebook is used for local searches, often in preference to Google. People are just as likely to use Facebook, they can see restaurant reviews from friends. It’s a more personal service.

Hayden Allen-Vercoe of Orbital Media said:

There is a consensus that social media has a key role to play in driving both brand reputation and sales. However, social media can be difficult to measure in terms of revenue – unless it is the only marketing tool being used in a marketing campaign.

Ultimately, the value of social media for a brand or company will depend on their objectives. Is social media primarily being used to drive sales, or is it a tool to drive brand awareness?

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The metrics to work out return on investment are very different, e.g. audience reach and engagement versus profit.

What do foodservice companies themselves think?

Verdict asked national and international fast food chains and restaurants about the importance of having social media accounts.

US burger chain Wendy’s is widely known on social media for its witty clapbacks and engagement.

Wendy’s also featured on Twitter’s so-called Year on Twitter after a 17-year-old tweeted the chain asking how many retweets he needed for a years’ supply of chicken nuggets, which trended as #NuggsForCarter.

Wendy’s chief communications officer Liliana Esposito said:

With customers, engagement is a must and should be as personalised as possible. Even if they’re not happy, feedback from customers is truly a gift.

“At Wendy’s, we have an in-house customer care organisation solely focused on acquiring customer feedback, responding to it promptly, and genuinely thanking our customers for helping us get better. We act on this feedback every single day and we’re a better organisation because of it.

“Consumer conversation about your brand may mean you’ve become part of a broader narrative – and then you must decide whether and how to engage. #NuggsForCarter was one such example. As Carter’s famous tweet went viral, a humble customer request – who doesn’t want a year’s supply of nuggets? – became a worldwide consumer conversation. Had we at Wendy’s tried to control that conversation, we very well could have ruined it. Sometimes the best thing you can do is cheer from the sidelines and remember that it’s a conversation, not a stump speech for your brand.”

Domino’s US executive vice president of communication Tim McIntyre said:

I can say that social media plays a significant role in some key areas for us. Of course, it’s an essential component in marketing and customer engagement.

Social media is not just a one-way marketing tool for us and never has been. Do we use our social media tools when we introduce a new innovation, a special online promotion or a new product? Yes, but it’s about dialogue directly with customers. People talk to us and we listen; they send us photos and we comment; we ask questions, they answer.

Meanwhile, JD Wetherspoon customers will now have to speak to pub managers directly in order to air any grievances.

One other company that wants to move away from social media is fast food chain Leon, though in a far more gentle way than JD Wetherspoon has.

A spokesperson for Leon said:

The food industry has embraced social media in a big way, and that’s a great thing for sharing our passion for naturally fast food. But we also believe in the experience of food in real life. Leon is prepared for a future where our customers truly switch off digitally and come to our restaurants for service, quality and smiles, not followers.

That’s why we have invested in a rapidly-growing member community grown away from our social channels, where we share updates, stories and offers offline.

We’re not turning our backs on our social media followers, we just know that the face-to-face experience our customers have is the most important thing.