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'Utterly baffling': adland on Lush's move to ditch social

'Utterly baffling': adland on Lush's move to ditch social

“Bizarre” was how many people described the announcement this week by cosmetics chain Lush to close down a bunch of its social media accounts.

The company, famous for its fizzing bath bombs and handmade soap, said it was “tired of fighting with algorithms” and refused to pay to appear in news feeds. “Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly,” the company said.

To that end, Lush has scrubbed itself clean of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and has asked its 1.2m followers to stay in touch directly via its website’s live chat, email, or – good heavens – the telephone.

Is this more clever PR and marketing - the company is certainly not shy of taking risks on that front, given last year’s campaign calling out undercover policing - or something more deep rooted and genuine, with the potential for other brands to follow suit? Our experts (and a few Lush customers too) share their views.

Laura Collins, Senior Director – Digital Delivery, Merkle

An utterly baffling move by Lush. They say they “do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed” – while you’re at it, why bother doing any advertising? Or hiring staff? Or making products? Oh that’s right, because it’s a necessary part of running a successful business.

Last I checked Lush haven’t successfully monopolised the beauty industry, and by removing themselves from social platforms they are 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.

As such, it's a crucial platform for marketers to be able to develop and pursue a direct, one-to-one relationship with individual consumers. Delivering relevant content to your audience, wherever they appear (even social!) is central to every people-based marketing strategy, which drives lifetime customer value.

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.

Erika Mari, Client Director, Bountiful Cow

I’m not sure if Lush’s frustration with algorithms warrants closing down all social accounts, or is the real reason behind this move.

Lush have said that social is making it harder to have 'direct' conversations with their community. However, while this may be true for organic and paid posts, it is certainly not true for the role of social as a customer service channel.

Like it or not, this is one of the key roles of these platforms and a presence here is expected by consumers. By closing their social channels, Lush is literally stopping consumers from having a direct conversation (through direct messages) with its brand, through a preferred consumer channel, and where their target audience spend a lot of their time.

Lush may be trying to regain some control. Social as a customer service channel can lead to negative, far reaching exposure when customers aren’t happy. However the reverse is true too, and valuable.

Brands do spend a lot of their marketing budget on building social communities, only to then be significantly restricted by the platforms on the amount of their followers they can actually reach organically.

But this is the same for all brands, fair or not, and is it a reason to shut down all accounts based on the reason they have stated? Pushing content out to consumers can start conversations, but is not a conversation – it is just a brand telling us what they want us to think and ultimately trying to get us to spend more on their products.

It is true, however, that brands place a lot of value on their social communities, which in reality they do not really own – if, for example, Facebook followers start to decline, impacting a brand’s community volume, engagement rates, and conversion rates there is no compensation - they can’t take that community elsewhere to continue the relationship.

If enough brands did this would the platforms be forced to increase organic reach in order to survive?

A sample of Lush's own followers:

"brilliant!!! I've been feeling the same lately...? you have my vote"

"I've been tempted to do the same thing! Good for you guys in leading the way - this is wicked x"

"@lush I just want to say, I’m actually very excited to see how you make this work and am sure that other brands will start to follow your lead. Social media has become a very distant, alone kind of place, and not at all social and I love that as a company you’re moving towards new options as you’ve found the same to be true about social media. I’ve definitely signed up for your newsletters now ?"

"Interesting move but I can’t quite get it, the decision to remove all channels. Half my purchases are motivated by things I see on Instagram on the shop accounts I follow ??‍♀️wonder why you’d want to cull your IG when it’s an easy promotion tool."

"I'm unsure if this will work well. I use the lush accounts to see when something new arrives. Using a hashtag will be very messy. Yes I'm aware we can get in contact via other means but through social media is how you get people to your website and they know when new products are out for example."

Sam Jones, Head of Paid Social, the7stars

This is a very bold move. Lush will feel they understand their audience better than anyone but the fact that their UK accounts currently have nearly 1.2 million followers suggests their customers want to communicate via these platforms.

Removing them will make their audience much harder to reach and could even make them feel neglected.

That’s not to say that all brands need to have a social presence. Wetherspoons closed all 900 of their social accounts last year believing it would not affect their business.

However, the key difference here is that the brands have significantly different audiences.

The vast majority of Wetherspoon’s customers were never likely to have the expectation to communicate with the brand via social, a view supported by the fact they had only 44,000 followers on Twitter and 100,000 on Facebook.

James Duffy, Head of Paid Media, agenda21

This is a really interesting move by Lush which follows the trends for DTC brands to want to control the conversations they have with their audience. I really admire their confidence to do it.

They will know their customers better than anyone so holding that conversation in an environment that they control should in theory allow them to deepen the relationship they have. In part this will be through better data collection and using this data to improve communication to their audience.

For example, tailoring messaging and targeting based on interactions with individuals that have occurred through all stages of browsing to purchase to new product launches etc.

Overall I am not sure other brands will follow suit immediately, but other DTC brands will definitely be watching to judge if they should also make the leap to take back more control.

Claire Sippitt, Consultancy Director, C Space

This is a pretty bold move for Lush. Given that their core customers are teens and under 30s, it seems counter-intuitive that they would actively stop engaging in the spaces where their target audience spend so much of their time. It will be interesting to see what form this new ‘community’ takes and specifically where it operates – it will require a lot more active engagement for consumers to go out of their way to interact with Lush.

Lush will have to think really carefully about how they’ll entice consumers, what they’ll offer in return to make it worth their while, and how they’ll foster those relationships that they say they want to build. It’s also interesting to see they have only made this bold move in the UK but not in the US (where they have nearly 8 times the followers on Instagram!)

Sabina Usher, Communications Strategist, MullenLowe Mediahub

It is undeniable that in a sea of samey content and aggressively extrovert brands all competing for attention, it’s getting harder to meaningfully engage consumers. But, we’ve got to look under the hood of headlines here. It seems this is less a confident stand against algorithmic social hegemony and more an admission that Lush are currently investing too much in social for too little reward.

Are they trendsetting here? Is withdrawing from social the new being on social? Whilst closing their accounts seems a dramatic stand, it’s not saying they are withdrawing from conversation completely. What it translates to is a move away from paid-for targeting to confidently committing to an influencer marketing approach. But I fear locking themselves out of these environments will do more harm than good - their primary audience, after all, live and breathe these channels. The proof will be if and how they manage to centralise the conversation around #LushCommunity.

To use an old adage, fortune favours the brave; and their competitors and the whole industry will be eagerly watching Lush’s next steps.

Mazen Hussein, Director of Paid Media and Creative, Croud

Lush is known for being for being a fiercely independent and outspoken brand, and whilst it’s refreshing to see a business standing for something they believe in, quitting based on “fighting algorithms” is at best odd, and at worst could damage the brand and the bottom line.

So many customers engage with social platforms in a healthy and positive way, and they provide quick and easy access to the brands that people want to know about and buy from. I would understand if Lush was changing the way it uses social platforms to focus on the benefits they bring, but walking away from this form of communication entirely seems at odds with the brand’s drive for connection with the community.

There is no doubt that social platforms will continue to form an integral part of other brand’s marketing strategies because of the scale of audiences they can reach. Hopefully Lush comes out of this with more engaged customers, better customer experiences and ultimately aren’t negatively impacted, but they will need to work quickly to replace the connections social media provides.

Sara Parrish, Senior Data Planner, Proximity London

Lush is one of those ‘take a stand’ kind of brands that I can usually get behind. In this case I absolutely would have if this were a move to denounce platforms due to the controversy surrounding the use of user data. However, this wasn’t the case.

Some of the brand’s reasons for jumping ship included not wanting ‘to pay to be in your newsfeed’ and not wanting ‘to fight the algorithms’. First off, brands should be embracing and leveraging rather than fighting algorithms. Relying on just an organic strategy isn’t a good idea. With regards to paying to be in the newsfeed, if all brands could get reach for free, social media would be an unbearable place to be.

It sounds to me like they had no clear idea of how to leverage their organic vs paid audience and weren’t entirely sure how to measure success on social. It feels like Lush is going through a bit of an identity crisis. Where and how they choose to communicate their next ‘brand purpose’ marketing campaign will be one to watch out for.

Shamsul Chowdhury, Head of Paid Social, Jellyfish

This move by Lush seems a curious one as they appear to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, rather than addressing a challenge. Consumers, particularly Lush's target consumers, are overwhelmingly over-indexed on Social. To turn your back on them when they are looking for information or support will in my view tarnish brand reputation and diminish brand equity.

While the Social algorithms are ever-changing and becoming increasingly pay-to-play, savvy brands have found ways to stay ahead of the curve by deploying solutions such as chatbots to serve customer inquiries. In today's increasingly digital world, having a Social presence is akin to having a website 20 years ago - if you can't be found, you don't exist.

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Pamelalyddon, CEO, Bright Star Digital on 15 Apr 2019
“Bold move yes, but at the end of the day if you have the world's biggest influencers talking about your brand - Hello Zoella ! Do you really need to spend so much on social when the traffic is coming through on more powerful platforms? Influencer recommendation is huge and can't be discounted. I say this with a professional hat on and my mum hat with a LUSH obsessed daughter !! She also loves it because it doesn't test on animals...”
NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 12 Apr 2019
“Prior to this, the biggest news surrounding Lush was their 2018 ad campaign based on undercover policing. It received a mixed reception; it's fair to say that it was a worthy idea but misjudged as a Lush campaign. And it's tough not to see a link between that and this news: social media lit up at the time, and there was a lot of negative discussion on social media.
Shutting down all their social media in theory puts Lush back in control, bringing them back to when a brand could push out a campaign and not have to field endless complaints and feedback across their social channels. Arguably it gives them freedom to run the ad campaigns they want with less fear of negative responses.
Whether it'll pay off though, who knows...”
TimKeen, Co Founder, SLiK Media on 12 Apr 2019
“When you spend some time reading through the social comments, these generally seem to be split into two camps and it feels like Lush are wishing to concentrate more on the people who spend money with them. From the comments, the shopper experience appears to be very positive, so a redirection of efforts towards these customers in a more personalised way and to other potential brand advocates seems to make sense to me.

In looking through average ad dwell times within social, these tend to be fleeting and fractional, so deep communication efficacy is difficult. Maybe this cost ineffectiveness is also contributing the decision to jump off the paid social merry go round.
It'll be of more interest if this UK test is rolled out across the rest of the Lush estate.

Lush UK seems to have upset the social status quo especially with parties who could be seen as being partisan. Lets' see.”