Get antisocial – what Lush UK’s social media departure says about the landscape
While many industry commentators have criticised Lush UK’s decision to turn off branded social media channels, Roger Christie believes the move to prioritise community over channels sheds light on the real opportunity for social media marketing today.
If you’ve ever dropped a soap bomb in a bath, you’ll know things tend to escalate pretty quickly. Last week, Lush UK made global headlines after deciding to bid farewell to some of its social media channels and open up the conversation with consumers in a different way.
The industry response was swift, with beauty, marketing and social media commentators calling the move ‘madness’, crazy’ and ‘a big mistake.’ Others suggested recent social media controversies may have changed internal attitudes toward social media and perceived brand risks. Some even attempted to draw a link between a lack of business leaders on LinkedIn and the decision to throw in the towel. And, according to local experts, Lush would rue its decision and eventually come crawling back.
However, in among all the industry conjecture and debate around social media being a customer imperative, it appears the community voice has largely been forgotten. Few have mentioned that the response from Lush’s own social media community has been overwhelmingly supportive thus far.
Just check the comments.
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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. 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. We’re a community and we always have been. 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. Over the next week, our customer care team will be actively responding to your messages and comments, after this point you can speak us via live chat on the website, on email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone: 01202 930051. This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new. #LushCommunity – see you there.
This strange scenario should lead anyone responsible for social media to ask themselves: are you setting your strategy based on the needs of your community, or on how social media platforms want you to behave?
Lush’s decision shows social media has evolved
Before exploring what’s really going on here, let me first say I have no business links to Lush or any insight into its social media strategy. I don’t shop there or follow its social media accounts. As such, I’m in no position to comment on what drove the company’s decision to pull out of branded social.
However, as someone who has spent more than a decade helping teams up-skill in the digital age, I’m fascinated by what this move says about the ways social media has evolved in that time.
Remember when reach and communities were built on brains not just budgets? Organisations – those brave enough – suddenly had an opportunity to bypass traditional publishing gatekeepers and engage consumers directly. On their terms, not the platforms’.
And even if those branded social media channels weren’t performing all the time, it was okay to keep them going because the costs were minimal. Nor did it matter if you weren’t a multinational with limitless budgets because you ‘owned’ your community and they were generally happy to hear from you. Social media was simple.
Of course, Facebook is now a 15-year-old adolescent who’s ‘working through a few things’, and simplicity is well and truly a thing of the past. The world of social media keeps changing but – based on the response to Lush – many are still clinging to old ideas.
What the industry can learn from Lush
Almost 12 months ago to the day, British pub chain Wetherspoons called time on branded social media citing privacy, customer service and ROI reasons. At the time, I applauded the move and believed it would encourage other organisations to deeply consider what value social media was providing for them and their customers.
Here was a business that had created a Facebook or Instagram profile for each of its 900 pubs at a time when organic social media supported local engagement. Unfortunately, when Facebook flicked the switch and became ‘pay to play’, that same digital infrastructure would prove costly and hard to manage as I’m sure all marketers would agree.
What should the industry take from examples like Wetherspoons or Lush UK? What’s happening to social media that demands your attention?
The answer is simple: focus on those you serve, not the systems you use. The true value of social media lies in people – not platforms.
The reality is, the social media platforms you rely upon to connect, serve or sell to customers will always be controlled by other businesses. As such, the strategy you set and the decisions you make today may not be the right ones tomorrow. But if you prioritise the needs of the people who matter most – your community – you will always use the right channels at the right time to deliver the best experience.
In a similar scenario, a client of Propel’s had already built a six-figure social media community when Facebook transitioned from organic to paid. Overnight, that community’s ROI fell through the floor as the impact of increased marketing spend and reduced customer engagement became clear. The rules had changed.
How did it respond?
Rather than hanging up its digital boots, our client recognised the need to refocus on the customer and adjusted strategy accordingly. They didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – they simply reassessed the role social media would play and shifted strategies from community building to service and consumer insights. They recognised social media platforms would be fickle business partners and introduced new social media programs that reduced dependence on things they couldn’t control.
Review strategy and prioritise people
Lush, too, is taking back control. While we wait to see how the brand redeploys the functions social media has provided to date – service, marketing, communications – we know it will do so with community interests at heart. Because ‘the customer is always right’ is a mantra that lives large in Lush’s culture.
As one community member commented on Lush UK’s original post, “I’m interested to see what happens, either way it’s opened up a dialogue that’s needed to happen for a while.” Rather than debating the merits of social media channels, let’s hope this decision starts a deeper discussion about where social media can contribute greatest value to consumers and organisations in today’s new normal.
Roger Christie is the founder and managing director of Propel