Is Lush mad to quit social media?

Lush’s recent decision to close down all its UK social media accounts grabbed the headlines. “I cannot fathom what has gone through the marketing director’s mind  for them to shut down their Instagram account. Madness,” commented one marketing consultant (1).

So, are Lush plain crazy? Or is there method in their madness? In this post I explore their move and what it means for brand building in a digital age.

[In case you don’t know Lush, its a UK-based retailer of handmade, bright and colourful cosmetics, which are vegetarian/vegan and cruelty- free]

1. A reminder that organic social reach is ‘dead’

The first issue prompting Lush to quit social media is one we posted on way back in 2014: the limited reach of ‘organic’ content. 

Lush said it was “tired of fighting with algorithms” when explaining its decision to quit social media (1). The algorithms in question mean that only 6% of a Lush’s ‘organic’ Facebook content is likely to makes it into followers’ newsfeeds, where most Facebook content is seen, as we posted on back in 2014 here (only c.1% of people liking a business Facebook page actually visit the page itself (2)). In other words, 94% of Lush’s content was unlikely to get to their Facebook followers.

To note, the organic reach figures for big brands with 500,000+ followers are even worse at 2%!

2. Limited potential to drive penetration 

A second issue with social media content Lush may have faced is the limited potential to drive penetration by reaching new users. 

Social media content it is consumed mainly by current users, as we posted on here. In other words, people who buy a brand follow it on Facebook, rather than people following a brand on Facebook and then buying it.

3. People follow people, more than brands

Another factor limiting the reach of brands on social media is the fact that people tend to follow people more than they follow brands.

Celebrities make up 84% of Instagram’s 50 most followed accounts, for example. Only three brands make the Top 50: Instagram itself, Nike (Nike brand and Nike football) and Victoria’s Secret. This is why most social media-fuelled brand success stories you read about are celebrity-backed. Examples include Kylie Jenner cosmetics, Real Techniques blusher brushes, Zoella books & cosmetics and Joe Wicks fitness books & programs.

4. For most brands, social media is a media channel

Lush could of course used social media as a media channel for advertising. Social channels are becoming more attractive for advertisers with the growth of ‘social commerce’, such as Instagram ‘checkout’ which allows you to buy products inside the app. 

For Lush, however, the company said it did not want to “pay to appear” in newsfeeds (1). This reflect a brand building approach based no on advertising, but rather on highly distinctive products, service and retail experience.

5. Driving direct connection 

Lush will redeploy the time and money invested on social media into connecting directly with consumers via its website, email and phone. 

The advantage of this approach is that Lush controls the conversation, not the social media giants. The firm said it was “cutting out the middleman between ourselves and the Lush community” (1).

The issue of reach highlighted earlier may still apply, as most email newsletter subscribers are likely to be existing users. The trick will be to encourage them to ‘spread the word’ to friends and family via word-of-mouth and word-of-mouse, to expand the brand’s reach.

6. Human connection still matters

Other interesting news about direct consumer connection is Gucci’s decision to open a telephone call centre. The centre will be manned not by robots but by real people, who will interact with potential and current customers via phone and email. In in a world of digital overload it seems there is an opportunity for brands to re-establish human connection, especially for luxury brands like Gucci where high unit prices provide healthy profit margins.

In conclusion, clearly social media can play a role as part of a brand’s advertising strategy, complementing traditional media. However, Lush’s bold move to pull out of social media content shows the need for brands to take a long hard look at what they are investing in content creation in the quest for organic reach.