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Lush leaves social media - is it the start of a brand exodus?

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As cosmetics giant Lush closes down its social media accounts, we take a look at how this will affect its business going forward, and whether others will soon be following suit. 

8th Dec 2021
Editorial Assistant MyCustomer
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UK-based cosmetics company Lush has deactivated several of its major social media accounts, in a stand against the “damage that they’re (social media platforms) causing” to users.

On Friday the 26th of November 2021, Lush closed down its Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat accounts across all 48 countries in which they currently operate. Their followers on Facebook and Instagram alone, totalled at over 5.2 million.

Whilst Lush’s Twitter and YouTube pages currently remain active, this may only be for an interim period, with the company advising that it is “only for now” as they look to “build better channels of communication elsewhere”.

This is not the first time that Lush have deactivated their social media channels. In April 2019 the company made a similar decision when they closed down their UK social media accounts in protest at having to pay to appear in newsfeeds and battle against algorithms. However, they soon reactivated their accounts despite their best intentions, in order to provide a service to their customers during the coronavirus lockdowns.

This time around, Lush’s decision appears to be more of a general concern about the impact of social media on people and their mental health. Jack Constantine, chief digital officer and product inventor at Lush, stated that social media companies “need to start listening to the reality of how they're impacting people's mental health and the damage that they're causing through their craving for the algorithm to be able to constantly generate content regardless of whether it's good for the users or not”.

CEO and co-founder, Mark Constantine, also stated: "I've spent all my life avoiding putting harmful ingredients in my products. There is now overwhelming evidence we are being put at risk when using social media. I'm not willing to expose my customers to this harm, so it's time to take it out of the mix."

Lush aren’t the first major brand to cease using social media platforms, with UK pub chain Whetherspoon, deciding to delete their accounts back in 2018, and more recently at the beginning of 2021, when luxury fashion brand Bottega Veneta deleted their facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts overnight with no explanation. 

So, why are these major brands with millions of social media followers deciding to cut ties with the platforms, and will others soon be following suit?

Why are brands turning their back on social media?

As discussed above, the official line from Lush paints the decision to cease using the majority of their social media platforms, as a moral one. This is certainly in keeping with Lush’s brand philosophy, with the company championing the need for businesses to operate ethically and only trade fairly.

For Jodie Harris, head of digital PR at Blue Array, it is Lush’s “strong ethical stance” that has provided it with the luxury to engage and retain their customers without the “necessary evil” of social media. 

“Social media has helped many connect with their audience like no other channel. Lush are in a great position where their brand doesn't need social media to connect. If you walk down the high street now, the only shop that is always packed is Lush. They engage and keep their customers with real life demos and their strong ethical stance, so it's a great move for Lush to quit social media.”

If you walk down the high street now, the only shop that is always packed is Lush.

The inference of Harris’ comments seems to be that Lush are one of the few companies who are able to remain successful and profitable without social media channels, and that for most brands, this isn’t an option. 

However, in discussing the news, Karina Scott — founder of social media and marketing company Girl About Social — is less convinced, claiming that “9 out of 10 times, businesses use social media just because everyone else does”, not because it is essential to their company. That’s not to say that Scott believes or expects all brands to necessarily follow suit, but that it all depends on the specific brand. 

“There are no rules, and I think that’s the biggest thing when it comes to marketing and social media. Companies just need to do what is right for them. Lush is saying it’s right for them, not that other brands should do it.”

Bottega Veneta clearly believed that stepping away from social media was also the right decision for them. Having given no official statement on why they deleted their social media accounts back in January of this year, we cannot be sure about the reasonings behind the decision. Yet, comments made by the CEO of Kering (the company which owns Bottega Veneta) during a quarterly financial results report, together with the fact that in April 2021 Bottega Veneta launched a new quarterly digital magazine, suggests that it was less of an ethical decision and more of a strategic one. 

In an article for Forbes, Pamela Danzinger commented on Bottega Veneta’s decision to leave social media, as well as discussing the incompatibility between luxury brands and social media content. 

“Social media is such a hodgepodge of divergent messages, from Granny’s chicken casserole, kids’ craft projects, pet pictures and political rants. Where does luxury fit into that world? It doesn’t. Social media is mass, not “class.” 

Whilst Dazinger does stray a little too close to classism with her assertion that “the people who can actually afford luxury brands are not likely to pay much attention to social media posts, because they are too busy living their lives”, her view that customers of luxury brands expect them to be “respectful of them and to personalise every interaction” rather than “bombarding them with irrelevant posts on social media”, seems to be a reasonable one, and one that is supported by the marketing data. 

Social media is such a hodgepodge of divergent messages. Where does luxury fit into that world? It doesn’t. Social media is mass, not “class.

In her analysis of a luxury insider’s survey of 500 executives working in or supporting the luxury industry, Dazinger found that social media is over-promising but under-delivering. 

“Only 30% of luxury companies using Instagram said it is ‘very effective.’ Facebook’s ‘very effective’ measure is about half that, or 16%. Pinterest and YouTube are 9% and 8% respectively, and Twitter, Snapchat, WeChat and TikTok’s very effectiveness ratings are almost too small to measure. These social media channels have had consistently low ratings over the last three years.”

For Dazinger, “Bottega Veneta is simply curating its marketing messages in a way consistent with luxury branding” and she believes that “it is likely that other brands will follow its lead.”

If social media is not performing to the level that brands expect, then it seems logical that they will begin to look for new and different marketing solutions. From a customer experience perspective, this could be something which benefits customers moving forward. Dazinger’s comments on being bombarded with irrelevant posts is something that is prevalent across luxury and non-luxury brands alike. If brands are starting to look into ways to provide customers with more personalised and pertinent marketing, this will potentially improve the experience for shoppers going forward. 

A societal shift

Although not acknowledged by either Lush or Bottega Veneta, or even Wetherspoon, another consideration in the decision to stop using social media channels, could be a perceived shift in opinion of social media platforms. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw Facebook outed for allowing the UK data firm to access and ‘harvest’ data from over 80m of its users, is still fresh in peoples’ minds. With the allegations that this influenced both the 2016 US election result and UK’s Brexit vote, a particular bone of contention for the public. 

Add to this, the 2017 revelation that nearly 50m of Twitter’s 320m+ users were bots, set up and used specifically to spread fake news stories around the web — an issue that has been exacerbated throughout the pandemic, with false information about the virus and vaccines running rampant — it is unsurprising that many younger people are turning their back on social media. 

Despite the pandemic providing a predictable bounceback for social media usage, as lockdowns limited peoples’ options, there is still a rising trend in young people choosing to limit their social media usage. 

A 2019 Report from Global Web Index highlights that millennial and Generation Z social media habits are flat, declining, or not rising as greatly as they were in the past. 

18-24 users on Facebook have been in decline since 2012 and only users 25 and above are increasing their use. 

For Facebook specifically, there is a clear issue in attracting and retaining younger users. The documents leaked by whistleblower France Haugen, and recently discussed during her congressional testimony, claimed that Facebook had a “demographic problem”, and that 18-24 users have “been in decline since 2012-13” and that “only users 25 and above are increasing their use of Facebook”.

These reports are of particular interest where Lush is concerned, with almost 38% of their shoppers aged between 16 and 24, with a further 27% being between 25 and 34. Moreover, their position as one of the premiere suppliers of vegan products ensures that they will continue to appeal to the younger generation, with Generation Z being the most meat-free generation. 

We are not suggesting that Lush’s desire to break away from social media due to the often toxic nature of the platforms is anything but sincere, with Mark Constantine even claiming that he is “happy to lose £10m by quitting facebook”. However, intended or not, the decision to distance itself from social media platforms could prove to be a case of short term pain for long term gain. If peoples’ trust in social media platforms continues to erode, and the platforms themselves continue to struggle to attract younger users, Lush’s position as one of the pioneers of the anti social media marketing movement, may yet pay dividends.  

The dangers of leaving social media 

For all the talk of the reasons behind the decision for these brands to leave social media, and the positives — both ethically and potentially fiscally — there are still clear drawbacks to abandoning platforms that are used by so many consumers. 

Social media is still a fantastic resource to help any brand with their communication and sales. There will inevitably be a financial hit for any brand who decides to cut ties with social media. Whilst the £10m mentioned by Lush CEO Mark Constantine may not have been the exact figure that his analysis has come up with, it is clear that he expects to lose money in the short term at least. For many companies, the financial risk of leaving social media will be too dangerous.

Despite being broadly in favour of Lush’s decision, Michelle Carvill, founder of social media marketing agency Carvill Creative, still admits that there is financial risk involved: “When you take a stand away from the ‘norms’ — there is always going to be risk involved. Lush has clearly done the numbers and are clear that there is potentially going to be some damage to sales revenue. So I guess the cons are, the commercial hit.”

There is also the customer service and customer engagement benefits of social media. A report published by MyCustomer and Orlo, discusses how expectations for brands have changed, and that people now expect to be able to “connect, interact, answer service queries, and deliver authentic messages to customers”. Social media is the obvious answer to this solution, and has been the go-to for the vast majority of brands in recent years. Undoubtedly, this is one of the reasons that Lush is continuing to run a Twitter account for the time being, to act as a customer service tool — yet this still leaves them at a disadvantage compared to other brands who are still running multiple platforms.

Social media remains as quick a route to a captive and relevant audience as there's ever been.

The report discusses the dissatisfaction with social media, particularly younger audiences, yet still maintains that the “benefits almost always outweigh the pitfalls”.

“Social media remains as quick a route to a captive and relevant audience as there’s ever been. Brands that understand social media still find effective and efficient paths to discovering, marketing to, acquiring and serving customers.”

The findings of the report are supported by research conducted in 2019 by The Future of Digital Customer Service, which found that 73% of consumers felt more comfortable about reaching out to brands on social media than they did two years prior.

What’s more, in cases where they weren’t able to communicate with a brand via social media, 49% of consumers were left feeling less positive about the brand as a result, and 30% considered taking their business elsewhere.

A future without social media?

So, will the actions of Lush and Bottega Veneta bring about a social media revolution that sees a mass exodus, or will the reprieve be short-lived and will the financial pressures of abandoning social media prove too much?

As ever, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. 

It is unlikely that the vast majority of major brands will be quitting social media anytime soon. The commercial benefits, combined with the customer service advantages, means social media will remain essential for most brands.

It will always come down to the circumstances of the specific brand. Bottega Veneta’s position as a highly sought after, exclusive brand makes it an ideal candidate to move away from the ordinary and common. It would not be surprising to see many similar luxury brands follow suit, and start creating more target-specific marketing content. 

For Lush, their niche as a highly ethical and purpose-led brand means that they will survive and potentially even thrive without the use of morally questionable social media platforms.
Michelle Carvill seems to side with the latter, and sees Lush’s decision as the future for ethical brands. 

“Aligned with the fact that there is increasing appetite for brands and organisations to be more purpose-led and research shows that consumers (and employees) are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect and champion purpose-driven companies – then this stance by Lush, not only aligns with their own business values – but also with the increasing values of their audiences.”

 

 

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