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Lush’s Instagram stance: Is social media marketing still a retail brand essential?

Lush UK recently announced that they are moving away from having a large national social media presence on the main platforms, such as Instagram. They posted a statement that indicates they no longer want to pay to be seen by their followers (due to the social platforms rolling out regular algorithm updates that reduce organic visibility for brands) and want to conduct their customer relations on their own terms instead; so, not on the very social media platforms that their customers currently inhabit, but on their site through chat, via email and the telephone instead. See their Instagram post below:

There has been a mixed response to this announcement. In marketing circles, Lush has been criticised by some for abandoning a potentially lucrative marketing channel just because they have to work a bit harder at it. However, others have commended Lush for their stance, and it’s unlikely that their presence will disappear entirely. Many of their individual stores currently have their own Instagram accounts, managed by local staff (although all sticking closely to a tried and tested content formula and brand guidelines, it seems) and it’s unknown at this point whether these accounts will continue to post content and engage with customers.

Many of these store-based accounts have thousands of followers themselves. One of the larger ones, @lushoxfordstreet, have over 140k followers on Instagram and over 38k on Facebook at the time of writing, with pretty high levels of engagement that we can assume is organic. These accounts naturally have a much more community-led feel than the national account ever did – so could this be a big part of the ‘community’ that Lush referred to in their statement?

Is the Lush statement about leaving social media just a PR stunt?

It’s too early to tell if the grand gesture from Lush UK’s HQ means that the retailer really is going to turn their back on social media platforms and hope that their following is dedicated enough to follow. If their local stores’ social media accounts simply continue as they are then the risks of such a move are mitigated somewhat, and perhaps this even makes their statement feel a little misleading. Their huge US social media accounts are not currently thought to be taking the same line as the UK national stance. It will be interesting to see what their next move is, in this chess game we call marketing!

Should other retail brands step away from social media too?

A 2017 study by Salesforce showed that  51% of millennials used social channels to research products before they bought, which is a huge section of the audience for many retail brands effecting their retail and ecommerce digital marketing. If this big chunk of potential customers is taken out of the equation, can retailers reach this audience through other channels with less effort or budget than they are currently spending on social media? 

The answer to that question could be different for every brand, and it’s down to the individual retailer to weigh up whether having your brand communications on your own terms (i.e. your owned property, like your website) will give you the reach you need, rather than relying on third-party platforms that can change their algorithms overnight.

For a huge brand such as Lush, looking for new customers may not be their first priority; whereas for many other retailers, social media offers real opportunities to prospect for new customers that may never have heard of, or bought from, them before. Facebook and Instagram especially are essentially ‘pay to play’ platforms for brands now, but they have been progressing in this direction for many years, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that organic social media reach is so limited these days. Taking a brand off social media altogether means that not only are you limiting the ways in which potential customers can find out about you, you’re also limiting the ways in which you can engage with them. Using a brand’s social media accounts as a customer service touchpoint is very much the norm. A 2017 study showed that 73% of consumers agreed that personalised customer care had a significant impact on their brand loyalty. Whilst it is possible for these things to happen on a platform that isn’t social media, making things easier for those customers who wish to contact you, not harder, is surely in the best interests of most brands.

It can rankle a bit to be expected to pay the social media platform in order to show your content to the people who have already made the choice to follow your page/account when this essentially used to be ‘free’, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in as marketers in 2019.

Can brands still minimise their spend and maximise their reach on social media?

All is not lost. For brands that choose to market themselves through social media platforms, there are strategies where paid and organic social media activity can work together, sometimes with the help of influencer marketing, to bring great results that give a significant ROI.

With highly targeted and optimised paid social campaigns offering a cost-effective way to reach both existing customers and new consumers, it makes sense for the focus to be on ensuring each message is carefully crafted for the intended audience. You can partner with the right social media influencers to expand your campaign’s reach, provide validation for your brand and sometimes drive sales. You can also use UGC from existing customers to extend your brand visibility further and a multi-channel plan will ensure that all marketing channels align, to maximise the impact of your campaigns. Whilst some of this type of activity isn’t ‘free’, it doesn’t need to cost a fortune either when planned and implemented properly. 

If you want to speak to us about social media marketing or working with influencers, get in touch today.

For more information about influencer marketing or indeed info on any of our digital marketing services, feel free to get in touch today on 0800 011 9715 or visit Fashion Digital Marketing.

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