The Lush Anti-Social Media Experiment Is Worth Watching

With an animated gif and a blunt declaration of social media independence, the UK Twitter handle of global hand-made cosmetics company, Lush announced it was time to take a permanent break from social media or at least wind down a significant number of channels the company operates:

It’s an interesting move from a company that has all of the earmarks of a millennial-friendly socially conscious brand. Lush products are 100% vegetarian while 80% are vegan and never tested on animals. The products are handmade with ingredients from around the world including fresh produce purchased from local farms to shea butter sourced from women’s cooperatives in Ghana. The brand has also experienced explosive growth up until 2017 with some modest corrections in 2018. It would be a stretch to say that the brand is irrelevant or a legacy player at this point.

Which is why it’s worth watching how this development unfolds in the months if not years to come. Lush offers some further explanation:

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, it’s interesting that Lush describes social media as “one place” when it’s many—however that said, the many places are primarily operated by one or two big tech players, so that language may be more intentional by design. In the original tweet, they did express frustration with the pay to play a traditional advertising model that is now social media. Also, the expression of social media being placed back in the hands of the community could be deciphered as an airing of grievance in a sense—clearly the move is motivated by a number of factors on both a values-based and business level. It’s also telling that they used language such as “less about likes”—tapping the counter-trend that the behavior social media encourages may not be all the great for us or at minimum isn’t authentic if we’re always living our best lives for the gram.

Some social media enthusiasts aren’t having any of it:

But there may also be some harder truths behind a stark decision like this. The value exchange for brands who do well on social media is that they are relevant where consumers/customers spend time—but it does come with a price tag as they don’t benefit from the all the data the gets produced in these millions of interactions—the platform owners do and brands have to pay not only to access audiences but also to leverage the data they helped the platforms mine in the first place. Lush may seek to replicate some of this on their own terms to establish not only the warm and fuzzy sense of community they espouse but also to both control and benefit from the data they help extract from their customers. It doesn’t sound as altruistic, but that’s business.

So this experiment is very much worth watching. What Lush has going for it, is that they are already a highly relevant brand vs. a legacy brand in decline—so they have a little buffer here to take bold risks. But, not being where your customers are flies in the face of conventional thinking. However, the move is meant to send a signal more broadly as well, that at least for Lush, the system isn’t working for them and perhaps they have enough runway to do something about it. Not too long ago, marketers questioned the value of social media as viable marketing, customer or mass communication vehicle. Now it’s as critical to the marketing mix as television once was. But the stakes are even higher when it comes to controlling your own data and Lush may have signaled where they stand on the issue. I’d keep an eye on this.

CMO, strategist, thinker and doer. I write about human behaviors and the relationship we have with technology and brands

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