What is the impact of Lush's decision to abandon social media?

The 2019 social media landscape is proving particularly challenging for brands.

Following growing concerns around privacy and the negative PR generated after the fallout of 2018's Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook announced a shift towards 'meaningful engagement'.

Trumpeted as an attempt to bring people closer together, the result for brands was significantly reduced organic reach, declining engagement and ultimately rising media costs via Facebook (and Instagram's) paid advertising platform.

Given Lush's recent financial announcement, in which they posted a £4m loss, the reasoning for the decision becomes clearer.

Social media's most measurable impact is typically provided through e-commerce, which currently makes up just over a quarter of Lush's overall business.

With increased pressure to cut costs in combination with the challenging landscape, social media marketing costs will no doubt have been an easy line to remove from the balance sheet.

However, the initial backlash from their devoted fans and long-term market developments highlight that this may not have been the wisest decision.

What could the impact of this be?

Initial analysis of social conversation sentiment showed a 356 per cent increase in negative sentiment towards the brand following the announcement.

While this spike may well be short-lived, many recent studies highlight the ever-growing importance of developing relationships with consumers through social media channels and messaging apps.

A recent study by Conversocial highlighted that 92 per cent of consumers were likely to be repeat customers of brands who respond to messages on social media.

For some brands, embarking on an always-on social media content strategy may not be the best approach, but in today's congested media landscape, being able to communicate with brands on the channels consumers use naturally each day is incredibly important.

In terms of next steps, Lush has apparently hinted at more work with influencers through the #LushCommunity hashtag, but the challenge for me is how they adequately capitalise on this conversation without a centralised social media 'home' for their products and campaigns.

Influencer marketing is good but, critically, it must complement broader digital marketing strategies.

The fact remains; to do this effectively requires a central brand account supported with some element of paid media.

It will be interesting to see how this works out for them in what is an ever-changing and challenging market.

With the unstoppable growth of e-commerce and low barriers to entry for start-ups, they could see this backfire in the long-term with reduced market share and an inability to effectively take part in the growing social conversation around the environment and eco-conscious products - something Lush is synonymous with.

Is it ever a good idea for a company to leave social media after gaining such a following?

In a nutshell - no. In a marketing landscape dominated by ROI and rising media costs, you cannot discount the value of their owned audience and the subsequent reach this provides, with users who have already indicated a preference towards the brand.

However, what is most striking for me is that Lush are forgiving the investment undertaken to accumulate this fanbase.

A rough CPA for social media fans is somewhere between 50p to £1, so taking their 1.1m total following across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter into account, you're looking at an audience value of circa £500,000 when discounting the fact some users will follow across multiple accounts.

Many brands crave engaged followings of such scale.

Mike Blake-Crawford is the strategy director at Social Chain

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