For or against?
With positive and negative impacts of social media visible in the market, the two sides to the argument are becoming more defined, writes Charlotte Mellor
There are 3.48bn people around the world who use social media, an increase of 9% on last year. There are more than 1bn monthly active users of Instagram worldwide. Facebook has 2.32bn monthly active users worldwide. While it is highly unlikely that all of these people will visit your Facebook page or Instagram profile, why would you want to miss out on such a potentially large number of people by not being present?
You only need to take a look at how people are using it to see the magnitude of its effect on pubs and bars. More and more, people are using social media to find out about a business before they decide whether or not to visit. They can read the reviews of previous patrons, scroll through images to get a sense of the look and feel of the place, and, if the venue is posting updates regularly, find out what’s on – from beer specials behind the bar to evening entertainment. Being able to tell both new and loyal visitors what you are up to gives you more of an opportunity to tempt them to pop in – and all it takes is a few words on a keyboard.
Licensees who make the most of how connected and interactive social media is can spread the name of their brand further. Images of cocktails and eggs benedict don’t do too badly for The Alchemist in Spinningfields, with their fair share of likes and comments, but it’s easy to see that the posts that carry incentives for customers perform best. For example, a post about the popular pastime of Sunday brunch warranted four likes and a share. Rewind to the previous evening and a post which was giving away a Late Lab table and Russian Spring Punch for four people garnered 226 likes, hearts and shocked responses, 385 comments and 272 shares. This is all because the post demanded shares and tags in order for fans to be entered, which would have increased the reach of the post without the need of it being sponsored or paid for. Of course, this does suggest that the business effectively has to give something away for free in order to get such interaction, but this is why the success of the campaign arguably lies with the steps that follow. Social media has done its bit – it’s gotten the entries – it’s then down to the communications department to follow up with the competition winner, ensuring that they claim their prize, and then with the front-of-house team to give them a night to remember – one worthy of sharing on social media, perhaps? Furthermore, the cost of posting the competition on social media and the reach that you’re likely to achieve compared to printed posters within a venue makes Facebook, Instagram and Twitter far more appealing.
While being visible is important, social media is not just about having an account – it’s how you use it and the type of content that you post. Licensees who utilise it and all of the tools that it offers can make social media work for them.
You can see why pubs and bars may feel begrudged about the “need” to join the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They were social places themselves, in the physical sense, long before media platforms got their hands on the term. In the beginnings of social media, it was even viewed as a threat to these places – people would chat to their friends from anywhere in the world on their phones or on a computer screen instead of meeting up with those who live in the same town.
The presence of mobile phones in our lives, no doubt increased by our attachment to social media, has gone so far as to impact the occasions when people do meet up in pubs and bars. How many couples do you see sitting opposite each other, scrolling through Instagram separately rather than making conversation together? How do you feel when you see a group of people more concerned with getting the right angle of their Sunday lunch, than eating it when it’s hot? It’s similar to when music fans attend gigs and spend the whole time watching it through the recording on their phone. It led to Samuel Smith banning mobiles in all of its pubs (so not just affecting social media, but taking and making calls). When you see the effect of such accessible social media on actual social occasions, why would pubs and bars want to support it?
Not only can social media have a negative effect on customers, it can pose problems for operators. News, good or bad (or, dare I say it, fake), travels so much faster on social media than any other source due to the sheer number of people that have been given a voice. These voices have been given a platform to make themselves heard with a few clicks of a button – suddenly everyone’s a reporter.
While the spread of good news or positive activity is where social media can be advantageous for operators, the same can’t be said for bad news or negative feedback. For example, if an above the line marketing campaign doesn’t go down too well with consumers, this will become apparent very quickly on social media. Unfortunately, we are all too aware that this can result in operators (all manner of businesses/people, in fact) receiving online abuse. If they are active on social media, this can be a direct insult, which has led to the demand for greater restrictions and punishments for such material. This suggests that being present on social media makes operators a target. The only saving grace is that while irate or ill-informed consumers have this outlet, so too do the operators. Operators that are on social media can share their own news, responses and statements from their own official account, which can travel just as fast as, if not faster than, the negative or fake comments. Due to the shareability of social media, a response can soften the instant impact of bad news. Through the amount of content (valuable or otherwise) that is shared on these platforms, users move on pretty quickly. Rather than being yesterday’s chip paper, these words end up in an abyss that is largely made up of cat gifs, Game of Thrones fan theories and colour illusions.