The pub vs the profile: Business lessons from the landlord

Were pubs the original social networks? For time immemorial, public houses in the UK and all over the world have served as meeting places where people from every walk of life have shared drinks, conversation, brainwaves and much more. In the pre-internet world, the only Facebook might have been your photo behind the bar - but that could be just as powerful as 100 likes from your network.

The parallels stretch to business, too.

Popular wisdom would have it that all good ideas are born in the pub, and a host of successful ventures back it up. Movember, the men's health charity which has raised over £400 million since 2003 and sparked a social phenomenon for dodgy facial hair, started life as two friends in a Melbourne pub, ruminating on the humble moustache.

While the founders of Southwest Airlines, one of the US's most successful carriers, sketched their original flight route on a napkin.

Modern entrepreneurs are increasingly fixated with being connected correctly online, traditional social hubs like the pub may yet have a lesson or two to teach them.

Pulling power

The power of the pub as a social and business forum is something veteran landlord Mike Armitage, 77, understands. Since 1980, Mike has been the publican of the Lion Brewery in Ash, Hampshire - long a mainstay of the local community. He's been involved in every aspect of running the establishment, from pulling pints to organising events such as a local music festival, now 30 years strong.

"I'm from Yorkshire originally, and I remember the days when pubs were entirely community-orientated," he says. "You could walk into a pub and everyone would know each other. The pubs of today often aren't like that – they're eating houses, first and foremost. Once you've eaten you ask for your bill and walk out; the only people you know are the ones you've sat with."

Read: Can introversion be an entrepreneurial advantage?

As Mike explains, the close-knit fabric of the old-school British pub also made it a one-stop shop for a wide spectrum of needs. Beyond pints, food and accommodation, boozers could also provide a quick fix for jobs, goods and services. Again, just like social media, there was no great mystery to this fruitful chemistry - it was just a matter of interaction.

"Talking to people and listening to what they say is the key to any successful relationship, business or otherwise," Mike states. "It's as simple as that."

Social status

It's a sentiment many experts would agree with, including Alex Fenton, a lecturer on digital business at Salford University.

"People are inherently social beings," he suggests. "The pub and social media overlap in enabling the conversation between people and building relationships, which is the common ground between the two."

Read: Will co-working end formal business introductions?

While the power of face-to-face connections may have been eclipsed by the digital revolution, Alex argues that businesses should strike a balance between the two for the best results.

"Businesses would do well to go for a few drinks with their audience, have a chat and build up an impression about what they talk about, like and dislike," he says. "A good social media strategy would do the same as joining a group in the pub – essentially, listening, supporting and being conversational as opposed to simply standing on a soap box in the corner, broadcasting and selling."

Open doors

In Mike's experience, positive interaction also generates opportunities. "If you use your manners and treat people with respect, you'll open doors," he explains.

From pigeon racers to parties to regular live music, there's always a packed schedule down at the Lion Brewery, and Mike firmly believes a pub should serve as a social platform that's fully engaged with the needs of its customers. As the Lion's success is so heavily rooted in the community, it also makes perfect sense for it to invest in it. Alongside being a successful business in its own right, he estimates the pub has raised some £250,000 for charity and local community projects.

While booze has always been the lifeblood of the pub trade, any decent establishment needs a beating social heart to keep it pumping - and, online or offline, the secret to a decent heartbeat is staying engaged and going the distance.  

"You've got to be one step ahead of everyone else and be involved as much as possible," says Mike.  "That allows you to see the potential in things, too – the next steps you can take. If I was 36, I know exactly what I'd do with this pub for the next generation."

Last orders

Communities, and how we think about them, have changed a great deal - particularly online. But the principles that made the pub such a powerful social and business entity in the past still seem relevant to an entrepreneur's digital connections.

"I don’t believe social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate," says Alex. "It has simply enabled new ways of communicating and keeping in touch."

If that's true, businesses may already be overcomplicating things for themselves. Is it fair to say that, in our rush to adopt the latest and greatest tools for communicating, we risk losing sight of the simple, vital principles underpinning any connection?

Much like a good pub landlord greeting his customers, it could be as straightforward as saying 'hello' to someone, and really meaning it.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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