Social media is a pivotal marketing tool for every company today. From capitalising on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to using influencers, it’s inevitably a great way to escalate brand awareness. Startups like Gymshark grew largely due to its social media following and saw sales worth $100m in 2018. Clearly, it’s easy to see why Instagram boasts of having more than 25 million business accounts.
However, not all brands are following the social path, regardless of its power. On Monday April 9, cosmetics brand LUSH decided to bid adieu to its UK accounts on social media. The brand announced this through posts on Instagram and Twitter. The decision to leave social media was seemingly motivated by a desire to promote real voices instead of chasing ephemeral likes.
LUSH said: “We’re switching up social. Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly. We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. So we’ve decided it’s time to bid farewell to some of our social channels and open up the conversation between you and us instead.”
The thread continued: “We don’t want to limit ourselves to holding conversations in one place, we want social to be placed back in the hands of our communities – from our founders to our friends. We believe we can make more noise using all of our voices across the globe because when we do we drive change, challenge norms and create a cosmetic revolution. We want social to be more about passions and less about likes.” The posts ended by saying: “This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new. #LushCommunity – see you there.”
While six in ten businesses say having an online presence is important for their long-term success, LUSH clearly doesn’t agree. However, it pledges to return to traditional methods of replying to customer concerns via email, telephone and live chat.
The beauty brand amassed hundreds of thousands of followers – more than 572,000 on Instagram, 202,000 on Twitter and 423,000 on Facebook – but isn’t the first to make this decision. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk pulled out the company’s Facebook pages last year. And pub chain J D Wetherspoon announced it will be losing its online social presence as well. The chairman Tim Martin told the BBC: “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.”
Despite the reduced confidence in social media platforms from these aforementioned companies, some believe the decision to forgo social accounts might not be ideal. “An utterly baffling move by LUSH,” says Laura Collins, social director at Merkle, the media agency, to Elite Business. “[By] removing themselves from social platforms they’re losing contact with swathes of potential new customers with whom they could engage on a highly targeted, relevant basis. Social offers unparalleled richness of data and is the only channel where people actively choose to follow and engage with brands. By attempting to open up a conversation with the LUSH community outside of social, the company may soon find there’s no community left for them to talk to.”
Collins isn’t alone to believe LUSH’s new gambit is a slippery slope. And given 60% of users today search and discover new products on Instagram, according to Hootsuite, it’s proof that’s the place to be seen. “It seems like LUSH’s agency was briefed to create a Colin Kaepernick moment but by turning off their social channels they’ve limited their ability to contribute to the very conversation they want to create,” argues Jai Kotecha, head of social and content at Ogilvy UK, the advertising and marketing company. “Maybe they’ll see a short-term sales boost off the back of their PR stunt but it doesn’t make long-term business sense.”
Additionally, looking at how the company has been vocal about its support for charitable causes such as banning plastic and championing women’s rights, having a presence on social media would serve as a catalyst to reach more people. “Personally, I feel it would be a mistake for them to leave social entirely [because] their activist mindset combined with the natural appeal in the beauty market – a rich content stream for social media – makes it a well-suited space for them,” opines Jo Bromilow, digital and social media strategist at Publicasity, the PR agency.
So should other retail brands take inspiration from LUSH and relinquish their social media accounts too? “Absolutely not,” states Laura Perkes, founder of PR with Perkes, the PR company. “Social media should be just that, social. It’s a fantastic platform for brands of all sizes to communicate with their ideal customer. It’s the closest consumers can get to feeling part of the gang.”
While having a robust social plan seems to be imperative for brands, startups must be pragmatic when making changes to their strategy instead of mimicking bigger brands. “Doing something different doesn’t mean marketeers should now all quit social altogether but instead iterate,” advices Katie Brockhurst, a social media coach at Social Media For A New Age, the PR company. “It’s great to ask the questions – ‘What is or isn’t working? What can we do differently?’ This is the problem with cookie cutter marketing techniques and tactics and our sheeple mentality.” That said, Brockhurst noted that LUSH choosing to go dark on the UK accounts, not the American ones, is a “super-smart way to test” the water.
Indeed, despite the criticism, not all are against the brand’s plans. “LUSH’s bold decision to step away from social media surprised many but made absolute sense in 2019,” says Greg Consiglio, COO at Connectt, the social media platform. “The announcement is the latest indication that there’s a sea change underway when it comes to social media management and how brands build authentic relationships with their customers. We’ll see an evolution rather than exodus. Rather than leaving the major social media platforms wholesale, brands will evolve their focus – away from the vast networks of today, where they’ve little control or insight to smaller targeted communities where they can engage with relevant consumers, away from the noise and with greater control over their own social experience.”
And apart from making its customer care in-house, it might prove to be beneficial for other startups. “Big brands that already have a lion’s market share particularly stand to benefit from this opportunity, which is why LUSH’s disregard for social media is interesting,” says Gavin Lowther, head of digital at e-commerce agency, Visualsoft. “The plus side of this is that as bigger brands pull back, it will create increased opportunities and less competition for those smaller businesses looking for growth and brand building.”
Looking at LUSH’s plan to go back to the archetypal ways of customer engagement, startup owners will be seemingly inspired to look beyond social. “While we might not see a rush of businesses following LUSH’s trail to leave social media, we will see brands become more savvy in how they invest their time and money on social media when it comes to building the strongest online presence to reach existing and new customers,” notes Gergo Csiszar, CEO and founder of Post For Rent, the influencer marketing company.
And, only time will tell whether pulling out of social media will prove beneficial for the brand. “Whether the decision is driven by customer demand or cost, is successful or reversed, it shows a that LUSH are willing to innovate,” says Elliott Jacobs, director at LiveArea, the global commerce services provider. “It should inspire others to be bold and embrace new ways to engaging and interacting with their customers.”