The latest figures show that the average internet user now spends 2 hours and 16 minutes on social media every day. This presents a clear opportunity for all businesses; reinforcing the fundamental business adage of ‘fish where the fish are’ which has guided brands throughout the evolution of mass media. Take the 1950’s: People began spending hours listening to radio and watching TV, so naturally these channels became a no-brainer for advertising.
Today, social media holds the attention of approximately 16% of the average person’s waking day, therefore presenting an obvious means of connecting with customers. But on the flip side, it underpins a wider societal issue that may be linked with rising depression, anxiety and self-esteem issues, particularly in young people.
Which is why, when news broke that cosmetics company Lush were ‘switching up social’ and turning off their social media accounts, my immediate reaction was that it must have been a brave move to fight the all-consuming nature of social media and the negative effects it can have on society. A notion that presents real connection to their brand purpose: “We believe in happy people making happy soap.”
The brand’s website even has an entire section dedicated to all the causes the company stands for, such as fighting animal testing, fair trade, and the company’s tax policy.
So was this another bold move to help make the world a better place?
It seems not.
In a statement posted to Instagram, Lush said: “We are tired of fighting algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeeds.”
The brand went onto mention that they “want social to be more about passions and less about likes,” but on the surface it looks like the real reason for the switch up is a cocktail of laziness and a protest against the pay-to-play arena that social media has become. And perhaps the decision makes a little more sense when you consider the brand recently reported a £4million loss – social media may have just been a line on the balance sheet that was easy for the finance team to delete.
The Value of Social Media
Measuring the true value of social media marketing is not always straight forward. Businesses that deal in online transactions, such as ecommerce brands, can often measure the direct impact of a campaign on their bottom line, by tracking a user’s journey from a social media platform to a purchase. But that doesn’t offer the full picture, and it becomes a lot trickier when a business’s sales activity happens offline.
Calculating ROI cannot and should not be purely transactional. Thinking of it in this way ignores the brand building and relationship building impact of marketing.
It’s likely that Lush doesn’t completely understand the value of its social media activity, which is why it will be interesting to watch the experiment play out. If the brand returns to social media in the near future, it will be a clear sign that negative impacts were quickly felt.
On the other hand, if sales recover and the brand continues to grow, it may kickstart a new trend for brands and their relationship with social media.
Social media algorithms are designed to provide users with the content that they are most likely to be interested in. By understanding your behaviour and how others have interacted with content, social platforms aim to prioritise the posts that you will value the most in your newsfeed. So while the algorithms themselves are very complex, “fighting them” is simple: Provide content that your audience is going to be interested in, that adds value to their social media experience, and you will win.
And what about the 570,000 followers on the brand’s Instagram account? If a new cosmetics company launched today, it would cost them somewhere in the region of £2,000 to reach that volume of people on Instagram just once. If they wanted to achieve that on a daily basis it would equate to approximately £730,000 in paid ad spend per year.
In other words, this owned audience is very valuable – not only because of the scale of reach, but because of what those numbers represent. Each user (minus a small number of bots and fake accounts) represents an individual who has actively decided to follow Lush’s movements on social media. They proactively wish to see content and product inspiration from the brand.
Throwing that away and asking customers to dial a number to talk about products is an experiment that the marketing community will observe with a curious eye.