The value of social media to businesses is being questioned this week after Lush UK announced it would be shutting down an array of its social media channels.
Reflecting an ongoing shift away from organic engagement and towards advertising on major social media platforms, the cosmetics retailer said it doesn’t want to “pay to appear” in customer news feeds.
“Lush has always been made up of many voices, and it’s time for all of them to be heard. 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,” the business said earlier this week.
Lush UK commands a social media following in excess of one million users across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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A spokesperson for the Australia and New Zealand Lush business confirmed it won’t be following suit and will maintain its social channels as a “way to engage” with customers as usual.
The decision appears to have split opinion among customers and other retail businesses, particularly because Lush has relied heavily on its digital following for social advocacy throughout its 23-year history.
Is the social media golden age over?
The business believes it can have a better conversation with its customers without social media as a middle man and will continue to prioritise word-of-mouth marketing.
“In line with this change in our strategy, you’ll start to see the rise of Lush personalities online. This isn’t a replacement for the brand channels but an opportunity for our customers to connect one-on-one with people within Lush based on the various categories.”
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. pic.twitter.com/nJUzG0lham
— LUSH UK (@LushLtd) April 8, 2019
Lush UK’s decision reflects an inflection point in the use of social media by consumer-facing brands in recent years.
In the early days of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, organic reach was an attractive prospect for many retail businesses, who quickly flooded to cash in on the social media train.
But more recently the tech companies behind those platforms have been cashing in themselves, putting more businesses in a position where paid advertising is necessary to deliver results.
Research suggests businesses have increasingly looked towards paid advertising on social media as a view emerges the reach of organic posting has been overstated.
“Feel like I’m talking to myself”
Judith Treanor, founder of online retail business Temples and Markets, describes Lush’s move as “bold” but understandable.
“I’m sure other retailers will follow,” she tells SmartCompany.
“The reality is that Facebook and Insta make it so hard for the posts to be seen, and consequently only a small group of followers tend to engage anyway.
“It can often feel like I’m talking to myself when I post.”
Treanor says she’s not keen to pay Facebook for advertising, and even when she has in the past wasn’t impressed by the results.
“The vast majority of our traffic, 85%, comes either directly or from Google search,” she says.
“In terms of total sales, in the history of my store, I can only attribute just over 7% as coming from social media directly.”
Going where customers are
Dean Salakas, chief executive of retailer The Party People, says “social media isn’t what it used to be”, but believes retailers ultimately need to be where the customers are.
“Customers have chosen to connect with you on those platforms,” he tells SmartCompany.
“You need to communicate with them on the medium they want.”
Salakas says it can be challenging to navigate the paid versus organic marketing landscape on social media, noting finding a strategy that strikes a balance is needed.
“I don’t think cutting things is the answer, coming up with a strategy that’s minimal but at least still works is better, he says.
“[Lush] has an organic marketing channel that costs not a whole lot to manage.”
University of Tasmania retail expert Louise Grimmer says Lush’s decision is “really surprising”, even for a brand with a history of being controversial.
“Wait and see how long they will stay off social media,” she tells SmartCompany.
A step too far?
Grimmer agrees social media marketing has become less rewarding for businesses but says Lush UK has taken things a “step too far”.
“I would have just cut off one of the channels perhaps … Twitter might not be the best channel,” she says.
Concerns about negativity could be driving the decision, Grimmer notes, referencing recent controversial campaigns the brand has undertaken.
“When they’ve got staff having to spend their time engaging with posts, trying to combat negativity, they could be doing other things for the business.”
What do you think? Is social media valuable for your business? Let us know at email@example.com.