Lush Abandons Social Media: A Brave or Risky Marketing Move?

Lush has abandoned its social media channels. Is this brave or risky? Angharad Neagle, our group managing director, examines the arguments.

Lush UK’s recent decision to do away with its corporate social media channels has divided opinion in the PR and marketing sector.

The handmade cosmetics brand says it has called time on its official social channels because “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.”

The plan, Lush reports, is not to abandon social media altogether but to focus instead on influencer marketing and rely on hashtags such as #LushCommunity and #BathArt to drive conversation about its products. For one-on-one conversations, it is directing customers to its website, email address and phone line.

Lush isn’t the only brand to relinquish its official social accounts. JD Wetherspoon announced it was abandoning its social media channels last year because of the “misuse of personal data” and “the addictive nature of social media”, though its following and engagement statistics were less impressive than Lush’s.

Moët & Chandon has also opted out of branded social media channels, choosing to focus instead on getting others to tell their story through influencer marketing.

woman on mobile viewing social media icons

It’s not difficult to see why Lush’s social media move has generated so much interest. It was an unexpected change of direction from a brand that has enjoyed a significant social media presence. At last check, it had more than half a million followers on Instagram, more than 400,000 on Facebook and more than 200,000 on Twitter – statistics many brands would covet.

Despite the controversy surrounding social media platforms of late, think fake news and data privacy, they allow brands to speak directly and immediately with their target audience – cutting out third-parties, such as the media.

However, there’s no denying that maximising your posts’ reach increasingly comes with a price tag attached. And there is also an argument that those who control social media platforms, and their algorithms, could be considered the new gatekeepers – holding the power to decide which content and messages may pass through them.

Lush claims an audit of its social content and strategy demonstrated that, on average, only six per cent of its followers were serviced with its content in their newsfeed because “we don’t pay to play”.

At a time when trust is at a premium, it also makes sense that big names will look to communicate their products’ strengths through influencers their consumers recognise and respect. But in the case of Lush, these influencers aren’t necessarily big names but grassroots Lush fans.

Engaging with an active community of supporters, on- and offline, is a tactic all brands should be employing, regardless of whether they have social media channels. Static posts that have a clear selling agenda will never trump authentic content that appeals to their target audience.

And less time and money spent on managing the brand’s social media channels could mean more time to invest in grass-roots PR work – boosting brand reputation and offering an opportunity to focus on Lush’s UK stores at a time when many high street shops are disappearing.

Fortune often favours the bold, of course, but it’s also a move that carries some risks.

Social media has become a significant customer service tool, allowing brands to connect with large audiences quickly and efficiently, answer queries and deal with emerging issues swiftly. Some have pointed out that many of Lush’s customers are aged 16-25 – considered the most active social media demographic – making them far less likely to use more traditional customer service methods.

It also raises the issue of control. Active brand social media channels allow companies the opportunity to respond to unfolding crises and correct misinformation quickly. Decentralising social media, by empowering shop owners and product makers to be more active on social media, removes their ability to do this and reduces their control over the way their values, ethics and tone-of-voice are presented.

It is unclear how successful Lush’s new strategy will prove. What is clear is that social media remains an important marketing tool for many businesses – big or small – and managing those channels requires ongoing evaluation and adaptation.

In the end, the most successful PR and marketing strategies are usually those that take a multi-channel, integrated approach, using different platforms to deliver the right message to the right audience, through the right medium, at the right time. You don’t want to put all your focus on one channel, but is Lush throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Only time will tell.

This article was written by our Group Managing Director, Angharad Neagle, and appeared in the Western Mail newspaper on  5 June 2019.