When high street cosmetics chain Lush announced it was switching up social, the press was quick to translate that as ‘switching OFF social’.
The BBC said Lush quits social media in UK.
The Independent – Lush to close its social media accounts
And even industry mouthpieces said the same thing. The Drum was straight in with Lush abandons social media although they did follow up with a bit of a backtrack: What Lush did next… on social media, while PR Week went with the same angle Lush ditches UK social media accounts. And the list went on.
But in their haste to get the shock announcement out to their readers, have they missed the point?
It turns out they aren’t abandoning it at all. They are, in fact, ‘switching it up’ and turning to new social media tools that will take them into the future and allow direct conversations with customers. So why did they report it so.
Part of the blame goes to Lush PR machine for putting out a statement that revealed boardroom-level discussions that would not normally have reached the public (more on this later). And it did kind of have a ‘so-long-its-been-nice-to-know-ya’ kind of feel to it. But dumping ‘some’ of your channels, doesn’t mean dumping all of them. Particularly if you’ve got more than you can handle.
The rest of the blame goes to the press who need reminding that ‘social’ isn’t just the newsfeed. It pulls us out of the boundary that is ‘social media’.
But as the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, and Lush is all over the news and not for the wrong reasons.
What Lush actually 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 don’t want to pay to be 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 – Facebook
There’s nothing unusual about that, social networks ARE making it harder for us to talk to each other directly. But only if you consider the newsfeed to be the network. Messaging apps such as Messenger and options for live chat are making direct (social) conversations easier, allowing businesses to get even closer to their customers and vice-versa. We’ve all grown to hate the impersonality of trying to have a conversation with a faceless brand through their social network.
Lush even cites the use of email and telephone as social tools. Who would have thought?
And so that’s exactly the direction Lush are moving in. Taking what social media has given them over the last ten years and personalising it. It’s an evolutionary direction that companies large and small should be moving in.
Those boardroom discussions
I said earlier that Lush revealed boardroom-level discussions that would not normally have reached the public.
Let me break it down. They said:
“Social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly” – OK, so this is not unique to Lush. It’s the same for every single business using social media. There are lots of reasons why this is the case, and it’s not just the algorithm, but I’ll save that for another blog. Why would Lush issue a PR statement citing a problem that besets every business on the planet?
“We are tired of fighting the algorithm” – Again, another pointless statement because the algorithm is not there to be fought. Social media ‘experts’ make their millions claiming they can ‘beat the algorithm’ by telling you what time to post and how many words to use and getting your mum to like your posts. But most of the algorithm changes that people believe they have to fight are caused by those who try to ‘cheat the system’. The algorithm would change less if people didn’t fight it. And that’s another topic for later discussion.
“We don’t want to pay to be in your newsfeed.” – Whoah, my first reaction to this was ‘Lush don’t have an advertising budget?’ And then I discovered they don’t. They really don’t. This global corporation has a ‘no advertising spend’ policy. If they did, I would find this part of the statement disturbing. However, it does actually link to their evolutionary plan.
They also said: “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.” – This is where Lush says we’re separating the wheat from the chaff. Out with the old and in with the new. Thanks for the ride. And swaggers off to play a new marketing game. One with real people who buy stuff and ask questions, not just click like and share.
Any PR agency or department would have predicted the reaction they got, and the news they are abandoning it just allows them to keep the story alive a bit longer.
So what are Lush doing?
Well unless you’ve been under the proverbial rock, two things are happening in social media that can’t be ignored.
Facebook, as you can imagine, will lead change. It has openly said private messaging will replace the newsfeed.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that within a few years ‘direct messaging would dwarf discussion on the traditional, open platform of Facebook’s newsfeed.”
So from the horse’s mouth, the newsfeed is dying. Which could mean social media as we know it, is also dying.
The newsfeed is simply NOT a mainstream business marketing tool. Even as a social tool, it is becoming harder for Facebook to decide what we want to see in our newsfeed (Yes, Facebook is deciding what we WANT to see). As we make more friends, follow more pages, like more things, the algorithm will struggle to deliver a quality experience. When that happens, we’ll just walk away. We will kill it when it no longer serves a purpose.
Think social, not social media
Lush is clearly thinking ahead but also counting the cost of producing content for newsfeeds that is only reaching, at its own admission, six per cent of its ‘newsfeed’ audience. While it may not spend money on advertising, it still pays for photography, video and copywriting, so it doesn’t want to be doing that just to send it to a dead platform, does it?
And while Facebook and Instagram provide a supposed audience of more than a million and video views of upwards of 10 million, Lush is, quite rightly, taking that collateral while it can, and moving towards a more personalised social experience for its customers. And working with influencers to generate buzz in the community.
I’m not a fan of the word ‘influencer marketing’ and I don’t like the term influencer, but I do accept that cosmetics are where this type of marketing generates return, as long as it’s open and honest. If Lush has got where it is today without spending a penny on advertising then it has an extremely loyal community, and the heyday of social media will have played a part in that.
Its recognition that the newsfeed is dying has brought about a radical rethink, and we can learn from Lush’s process and many will follow. In fact, they probably already are, they just didn’t send the press release.
Foresight and hype – take your pick
Sticking with a dying platform is agreeing to die with it.
I wrote about Wetherspoons ditching their social media almost a year ago to the day. The pub chain believed there was a vibrant social aspect to their business that social media couldn’t enhance.
Lush have recognised a thriving, loyal community that it can continue to serve, albeit differently.
But both have the foresight to see beyond the hype of social media. And to quote Lush “This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new.”