Why would a major brand abandon social media?

Lance Concannon Lance Concannon, Marketing Director, Europe

This week the popular UK cosmetics brand and high-street retailer, Lush, announced it was abandoning social media. This came as a big surprise to many in the marketing world.

For any major retail chain to turn its back on social would be an interesting move, but especially a cosmetics brand, since that industry has embraced social more than most, fuelling the rise of a huge community of beauty bloggers and social influencers. So why did Lush take this decision?

In a Twitter thread this week, the brand said:

“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.”

It’s unclear if Lush is abandoning all its social channels, but the same message was posted on its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. The post prompted a lot of responses from followers of the brand, and people in the social marketing industry weighing in with their opinions on whether this was a smart move.

The big question is; why? Wasn’t the promise of social media always that it provided everybody, organizations and individuals alike, with the ability to speak directly to their audiences at very little cost. Mass communication would no longer be controlled by big-media broadcasters and publishers, and now anybody with internet access could easily create a blog, Twitter stream, Facebook page, or YouTube channel.

What went so wrong that a company like Lush would walk away from channels where it had spent years building up communities of hundreds of thousands of loyal fans?

From the comments it posted, it seems as though the company has taken issue with the increasingly pay-to-play nature of social platforms. While it’s still free to build a profile on all the major social media channels, over recent years those platforms have tweaked their timeline algorithms so that brands need to pay for their posts to be seen by as large an audience as possible.

On the one hand, this can be frustrating for social media marketers who grew used to their content performing well organically but then suddenly needed to find budget in order to achieve the same results. But at the same time, Facebook and Twitter have shareholders and need to generate revenue, just like Lush and any other business, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that they should ask brands to pay for using their platforms as a marketing channel.

Ultimately, even with the well documented decline in organic reach, many businesses still see channels like Facebook as a highly cost-effective way to reach consumers, compared to more conventional marketing options.

It will be interesting to see what happens next with Lush, as the final tweet in the thread alludes to some forthcoming development:

“This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new. #LushCommunity – see you there.”

Some commenters have speculated that this could mean it plans to work more with influencers, or potentially create some kind of owned community platform on its website, but there’s no official comment on this yet.

As a privately held company it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get any clear insight into how moving away from mainstream social platforms will affect the business, but no doubt the industry will be keeping a close eye on Lush’s future online marketing activity to find clues about the impact of the decision.  

(Image Credit: By Olivier Bruchez – Flickr: Lush, CC BY-SA 2.0)