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Lush just went dark on social media. Did its marketers make the right call?

A quick note from Wendy about the reaction this piece has had elsewhere: Interestingly, when I first published this on LinkedIn and Facebook, this article really divided my marketing friends. I wrote this from my deeply held point of view of putting customers first, but some marketers saw it is as a brand choosing to make a political stand against social media company policies, whilst others thought it was the brand being cheap and not wanting to invest in paid social advertising and resource. I respect both groups for their opinions and both could be right. The debate was an insightful demonstration to me that even the experts all interpret facts and stories differently, and we all have our own preconceptions we carry over into situations like this when we are judging others.

Original story: This may have you confused as it did me, but exemplar brand Lush has really pushed my buttons. They are saying goodbye to social media marketing.

Social media is a communication channel. Choosing to not play where your community is is a bold move. And IMO, it’s silly when it’s the cheapest marketing out there.

As a business owner, entrepreneur and marketing gal, I know that my customers rule the roost. They are the boss. It doesn’t matter what I want, the “If you build it, they will come” philosophy is not one I subscribe to because in marketing, it rarely works.

And it’s most definitely not the best way forward to grow exceptional customer relations.

So let’s take it step by step where I’ll try and unpick the situation and shed some marketing light on what is happening.

1. First up – I do love Lush

Lush represents everything I love about consumer goodies. They can be package free, they’re chemical free, you know who made them, they’re affordable, they make great gifts, and my kids are definitely part of the cult.

People know I love Lush and the six bath bombs I received for Christmas prove it. But I don’t love this…

2. Is it a PR stunt or for real?

This interesting and bold statement was posted this April by Lush UK – is it just a pr stunt?

Its Facebook page states:

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OK, I get it. We are talking less. Our communities have increased in size but lessened in intimacy.

But here’s the thing: Your beloved brand is not my BFF. I don’t want to phone them to check in. I don’t want to email them my updates. I want the brands I love and follow to be accessible and play in the spaces where I play.

I don’t email when I don’t have to, and I never phone when I don’t need to.

For me (and I am guessing many others in an age when mobile phone numbers are somewhat redundant), Messenger works. The app is on my phone and desktop. It’s easy, quick and I am notified when I have an answer to pressing, life-changing questions like: “Which store can I find the peach emoji bath bomb?”

Breaking it down…

Lush UK says:

“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. 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.”

My answer to this is well yes of course, brands do have to pay for social media advertising… just like every other advertising channel. And this is no bad thing.

It is much, much cheaper than any other form of advertising – in terms of assets, timings and agility – easily the cheapest out there.

But more importantly (and why I took my career in this specialist direction nine years ago) social media are the only channels where you can get real-time, immediate feedback directly from your community. When I say community I’m not talking about just your customers that have purchased from you already (I’d hope you have that data and a comms strategy for this) but people who are thinking about purchasing from you and/or advocating for your brand. This is your liquid gold.

My advice to anyone thinking of doing the same, if you’re saving advertising pennies don’t cut the one where your community can actually have a say! 

At a customer service level (different from marketing) integrating your customer service team into your social is not that hard. If your consumers aren’t talking to you on Facebook they will be tying up the phone lines, which is costly.

My amazing team at Socialites helped Spark to bring its customer service team into the social media arena four years ago. It reduced customer service costs significantly, and (surprise, surprise) people like using it!

Lush UK says:

“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.”

Reading between the lines here, it sounds like they are building a forum or website or app where people can come and chat.

I’m all about driving traffic back to a brand’s website … but thinking that people are going to go to a brand’s website or app to join a conversation, rather than scroll through Instagram/Facebook is naïve and frankly a bit egotistical!

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Our habits are now just too ingrained. Social media is a fundamental part of our connection to the world. Even if we say we don’t like it we still use it. Over two million Kiwi users spends almost an hour on Facebook and Instagram a day! It’s that “waiting at the checkout” moment. 

This decision by Lush UK also assumes people know about Lush’s new website/app/forum (if that’s in fact what they’re creating). If you choose not to use the cheapest advertising on the planet to drive people to it, its like putting a supermarket in the middle of the desert.  

Lush UK says:

“We’re a community and we always have been. We believe we can make more noise using all of our voices across the globe because when we do we drive change, challenge norms and create a cosmetic revolution. We want social to be more about passions and less about likes.”

OK, this one is an easy one… I see so much passion on social this doesn’t make any sense to me. People are passionate about what they eat, what they do, what they wear and what they do. And they love to share it. And Share they do, and Follow, Like, Love and all the things we do back.

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In fact, Facebook on any given day can be the most passionate media you’ll find anywhere!

Lush UK says:

“Over the next week, our customer care team will be actively responding to your messages and comments, after this point you can speak us via live chat on the website, on email at [email protected] and by telephone: 01202 930051. This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new.”

They do have one thing 100 percent right. Establishing a direct relationship with your community in 2019 is absolutely key to ongoing success.

The rules around privacy are going to make it tougher and tougher for brands to do decent audience targeting on social media platforms, making it harder to skip parts of the purchase funnel. So yes, I agree, signing up people to email newsletter, loyalty programs and more should be every brand’s number one priority right now.

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But… here’s the thing… for many people (just ask a Millennial) a huge barrier to them engaging with a brand is making an actual phone call. Some people now don’t even have phone plans on their phones, just data. I know people who just watch their phone when it rings. So the task to make a call to a call centre? Well, that’s just putting in unnecessary hard work for your consumer.

And why would a brand want to do that? 

Good luck to them if their website/app/forum takes off and I am proved wrong!   

 Lush, which by its nature is a passionate eco-friendly brand with a huge cult-like following (judging by the activity at my local mall!) should be where its community is. And that’s in TikTok, Facebook and Instagram at the very least.

Wendy Thompson is the CEO and founder of Socialites.
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