Lush’s decision to quit social media in the UK is brave. It’s a move which they say is being done to bring them closer to their audience, but their claim that they are “tired of fighting with algorithms” means it smacks more of a child complaining that the rules of the game are unfair. However, Lush is an established business, and a decision of this magnitude wouldn’t be taken if there weren’t perceived benefits, and other opportunities they feel they could explore.
There’s no doubt that this move is a gamble. Only one other business of note has taken the drastic move to step away from social media recently – JD Wetherspoon – and even that isn’t a comparable story, given that Wetherspoon had only 100,000 followers on Facebook and 6,000 on Instagram. By contrast, LushUK boasts 202,000 Twitter followers, 569,000 Instagram followers, and 423,000 likes of their Facebook page. So why would they step away from such an audience?
The official party line
A dislike of algorithms and a desire to be closer to their customers is what Lush is claiming has forced this move. The former of these reasons gives the feeling that Lush have become bored of the game. It’s a sentiment that has been rife among brands for a long time, and is by no means unique to Lush. And yet only one other brand has taken the step to delete their social accounts.
What were the alternative options?
If Lush were so disenchanted by social media, there were (perhaps more sensible) alternative options open to them:
Make strategic hires: perhaps the easiest thing to do, for a business of Lush’s size that’s struggling with the algorithmic side of social media, would be to hire a couple of people with proven experience in managing this area?
Lessen reliance on social: for a brand, social media as an acquisition and engagement channel can be viewed like fatty foods as part of a balanced diet. Too much is bad – Facebook, Twitter and Google don’t share all the data on how your audience engages with your ads, which can make it feel like you’re throwing money away. What’s more, it is important brands have their own acquisition and e-commerce channels, to give them a clearer picture of their customers.
At the same time, some presence on social media is necessary for modern brands, and its ability to boost acquisition and branding is unquestionable. The decision to avoid social entirely is strange, and lowering spend on these channels, to first monitor the effect of such a decision, would have made more sense. A healthy mix, with other channels like TV, OOH, and search, is usually the best answer.
“Cutting out the middleman”
Lush’s other reason for this decision was that they wanted a more direct relationship with their consumers, and leaving social was a way of “cutting out the middleman”, instead helping their customers directly through phone lines, chat technology, and email.
The reality of this decision, however, is that customer service will become more limited, even if they make improvements to their phone, chat, and email capabilities. Social (especially Twitter) is now such a key platform for customers to ask questions about their products, get in touch with the brand, and give feedback. By deleting social media accounts, Lush are taking a key customer service platform away from an audience which is largely made up of digital natives.
But will “cutting out the middleman” at least lead to better customer data sets? Perhaps, but this will rely on a large chunk of Lush’s social followers seeking brand interaction elsewhere. Unfortunately, the reality is that a large number of these customers will cease to interact with Lush once they are no longer in their social feed.
Although this would still result in Lush attaining stronger data sets on those customers who continue to interact with the brand, the number of customers their data sets are based off will be significantly reduced.
The knock-on effect on sales
Obviously, something Lush will have analysed closely before making this decision is how it will impact their bottom line. Shoppable social has become huge over the last few years, with Instagram recently making it easier than ever to buy without leaving the app.
On top of that, there will be a large number of Lush followers on social media, who will not interact with the brand anywhere else, but could have been persuaded to buy something after seeing an ad on social. With subscription, ad-free TV now the norm for Lush’s target audience, deleting their social media presence is really limiting the number of channels they can reach shoppers through, will hurt sales.
However, while sales will suffer, the effect on the bottom line remains to be seen. The budget which is freed up by stopping social spending, could offset the harm to sales which would have been generated by social advertising.
That being said, even if the bottom line improves overall, it is hard to see how Lush will gain from quitting social. It certainly seems as though it was a choice made with dislike of social platforms the first thought in their mind, and customer convenience a distant second.