How important is social media for brands?

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Checking social media activity on iPhone

Social media infiltrates every inch of our modern day lives. It’s how we communicate, it’s what we talk about at work and with friends, it’s how we get our news, keep in touch with people, shop for products and so much more. As well as following friends and adored celebrities on our social media channels, we are also able to follow the brands we love. Through these channels, brands often provide deals, new product launch information, collaborative posts, behind the scenes updates, customer services and more. With social media such commonplace in society, it’s a very rare occurrence that a brand has a limited social media presence, and even rarer that they have none at all.

In this article, I look at the two biggest brands to step back from social media, highlighting why they chose to remove themselves from these platforms and what the repercussions could be in a social media-centric world.

Lush

Lush leaving social media statement

Source: Lush Twitter

In April 2019, Lush decided to take a step back from its social media platforms. In a statement released by the cosmetics brand on their social media channels they explained: “Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly.” Stating that they are “tired of fighting with algorithms” and “do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed.”

This move away from social media is certainly big, especially for a beauty brand. Socialbakers report that almost half of all engagement on Instagram is across posts from the fashion and beauty industry. And when it comes to a big corporation like Lush, you have to wonder how much impact on sales their over half a million follower count has had, and whether they will lose sales as a result of the change.

It is worth mentioning however, that they are not leaving social media altogether but are instead opting to have store-specific accounts rather than one large, global account (although the page will remain live). This is in the hope that they are able to talk directly to specific communities, something that aligns strongly with the brand’s ethos to not “waste money on excess packaging, advertising and expensive marketing”. As well as these more location-specific feeds, they will be continuing the conversation using the hashtag #LushCommunity.

After only a month since the company’s social media overhaul, it’s hard to tell what kind of impact this has had on the brand. Despite not posting, their main social channel following seems to have grown. And, as these channels are not deleted, just inactive, they can still benefit from all previous posts and engagement with them.

JD Wetherspoon

However, Lush is certainly not the biggest brand to dial back on their social media. In April 2018, pub chain JD Wetherspoon announced its exodus from social media. The move, which came as quite a surprise for many people, announced that not only the main account but all pub-specific accounts were to be closed down with immediate effect.

The company explained that the reasons were two-fold. Not only did they want to boycott social media after a large range of data and privacy scandals, but they also described it as a negative space, explaining that it “follows the bad publicity surrounding social media, including the 'trolling' of MPs and others, especially those from religious or ethnic minorities.”

Tim Martin, the owner of the chain, said in a statement: “We are going against conventional wisdom that these platforms are a vital component of a successful business. I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion.

"We will still be as vocal as ever through our Wetherspoon News Magazine, as well as keeping the press updated at all times. We will also be maintaining our website and the Wetherspoon app to encourage customers to get in touch with us via our website or by speaking with the manager at their local pub.”

social media statistics and phone

What are the downsides to quitting social media?

With these two large brands ditching social media, I have to wonder how many other brands may follow suit. I think for the right brand this is a fantastic and powerful move; however, I do think for many others, especially smaller, local brands, social media is still a powerful tool that can yield profitable results.

Being a small business, your reach is far reduced to that of big corporate players. Tools like social media offer a way to get people talking about your brand whilst also reaching people in an area (both in terms of customer types and location) that otherwise may never have heard about your business. With Instagram having over 1 billion monthly users, over 13% of the world are accessible via the platform. Having an audience this big at your fingertips has enabled smaller businesses to engage with consumers on a scale that was never thought possible.

Not to mention, social media accounts are free to use organically and highly user-friendly, meaning everyone can get their business name out there without having to budget for it. It’s when brands get bigger that payment starts to become necessary, as Lush refers to in their departing statement.

For Lush and Wetherspoons, they are already incredibly developed brands that everyone knows, and they can be almost certain that their income doesn’t solely rely on social media promotion. For smaller brands, the income garnered from social media may be a large proportion of all income and may be invaluable. Sprout Social have found that people are 57.5% more likely to buy from a brand they follow on social media, which shows that having a social media presence does affect income in some way.

My only concern is that social media has become a platform for customer service. For customers looking for help and advice, they will have to return to slower, less-preferable methods of contacting the company. But so long as these companies are still easy to contact with live chat facilities, quick-response email teams or dedicated customer service numbers manned frequently, perhaps going offline will allow the brand to better focus their branding and messaging where it counts most.

For now, I won’t be deleting social media for Bespoke.World or Kolibri, but I’ll certainly keep these tales in mind for the future.