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Uncomfortable Challenges as Lush Suddenly Quits Social Media

Darko April 17, 2019


Lush UK Quits Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Lush, the UK-based international cosmetics brand, dropped a large bath bomb last week when they announced the imminent closure of their largest social media accounts to “switch up” its approach to social.

Well-known for their bath bombs and naked (plastic free) packaging as well as their stances on ethical issues, the company announced that they will be ceasing to use their Lush UK handles on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Other sub-brands like the Lush Kitchen, Soapbox, Lush Times, Gorilla and Lush Life accounts will also be closing.

The main Lush UK brand has 423,000 likes on Facebook, 572,000 followers on Instagram and 202,000 followers on Twitter – a social reach of about 1.2 million.

This is a big deal – what happened that drove Lush to this conclusion and what impact will it have?

The Organic Reach Problem

Lush said in a statement on Twitter that “…we are tired of fighting with algorithms, and do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed.”. This is consistent with decreasing organic reach on Facebook which has been the case for years, and an increasingly crowded space with more brands than ever fighting to get your attention. It is also consistent with Lush’s stance against paid advertising, relying on word of mouth and influencers to spread their brand to new audiences.

Their statement goes on to say, “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 main issue I find with Lush’s statement is that it implies reaching users organically on their newsfeed is how they measure their ability to have conversations with their fans, which worries me as this is not how brands should be measuring their impact on social media at all.

Focusing on Getting Social Content Right

Lush’s tweets included “…social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly”, which is actually quite an interesting statement.

Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 announcement “Bringing People Closer Together” in 2018, Facebook deliberately started prioritising posts from friends and family over public content – in a way, making it easier for people to keep up with each other directly but deliberately making it more difficult for pages and brands.

Lush would hesitate to openly say that is a bad thing, even though they are right that it makes it more difficult for their organic content to be seen on the platform. At the end of the day, while they are more ethical than most and love their customers, they, too, are a commercial brand.

The other issue that may have been overlooked is quality of content. In the same post, Facebook said “…we will also prioritise posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people”.Posts that ask questions, encourage sharing, commenting and attract more reactions, will naturally place higher in newsfeeds.

Lush has historically underperformed in this regard on social media. Social analytics shows that Lush’s engagement rate amongst its UK Instagram followers is 0.89%, less than two thirds of the industry average (and remember, Fashion and Beauty are the strongest industries on Instagram so this is huge).

Debate amongst marketers on Twitter also highlighted symptoms of the lack of a strong content strategy from Lush centrally. The good news is, while these can be identified as areas of weakness, they are also all problems that Lush can solve. A strong content strategy, data driven analytics and people employed full time to care about what content matters most to their audience (most of Lush’s shop-run social media accounts are run by people who also have to be on the shop floor), can go a long way to fixing this.

However, walking away won’t help.

This Might Make Some Sense for Lush, but Not for Their Customers

Lush has always been a pioneering company, unafraid to go against industry trends and do what they perceive to be the right thing. In this regard, their announcement is hardly out of the ordinary.

This decision could turn out to be a great piece of forward-thinking, anticipating a world where people are so overwhelmed by brands fighting for our attention that we increasingly look to our local stores, friends and favourite influencers.

However, what gives me pause is customer behaviour now, rather than in the future. While it’s true that Lush’s organic social reach is certainly falling as it is for all brands, there are a number of other things to consider:

  • We live in a world where people are increasingly comfortable reaching out digitally to brands for customer service. Abandoning a central point for customers to reach out will lengthen this journey for many customers as they attempt to locate and contact the brand through other means (nearest stores or their website). I can see this being positive in some cases, but also more frustrating for many others.
  • Brands including Lush have thousands of users who regularly check their social profiles to browse for latest product announcements and thought leadership. These people are often brands’ most loyal fans, and they probably like and share the most content – but because they’re navigating to the brand rather than vice versa, they won’t be highlighted in “Organic post reach” statistics. Walking away from these advocates and dispersing them may not immediately lose revenue, but would certainly hinder future growth.
  • A big draw of social media is being able to access many brands from one place – today’s customers prioritise convenience. Walking away from some of the largest platforms in the world with the potential to reach billions of consumers in places where they spend a lot of their time, is unlikely to be good for growing a community or a business.
  • Lush has a proud history of supporting causes it believes in, and will obviously continue to do so regardless. However, a central place for these campaigns online with the largest possible social audience is a strength and a great place to centre the conversation. It will be a challenge to have the same sort of impact without their core social accounts.
An example of Lush North America using social media to support the #RefugeesWelcome campaign in 2018 – photo from Lush North America Facebook page

Will Lush’s New Social Approach Work?

Lush’s ambitions to grow their own community via their website, newsletters and other owned channels seem completely plausible, but I cannot help but feel there are ways to grow this in conjunction with, rather than in spite of, social media.

The fact that Lush’s North American social media accounts (which have a far higher combined equivalent following) are not following the example set by Lush UK, suggests to me that far from everyone at Lush is convinced this is a good idea.

According to Socialbakers, Beauty brands have the second highest user engagement on Instagram and Facebook combined (only Fashion is greater) – and female social media users are more likely to interact with a beauty brand than any other type of brand (77% of Lush UK Instagram followers are female according to RichClicks). Lush has not built a position where it dominates the market by any means, so it remains to be seen how many will follow if customers are interacting so much with their competitors on existing social channels.

In summary, this move feels odd to me. While it is very bold, there is also something to be said for being present and centre on channels where customers are engaging with you, and removing that central layer of transparency from communications feels like it will only be negative for brand perception.

I am eager to see how this plays out because I think this is part of a growing undercurrent of brands dissatisfied with the current digital state of affairs, but I also don’t think it will yield the results Lush might be looking for.

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