You might be familiar with Lush. It’s a lifestyle products company that sells soap and related products for personal wellbeing. Now this company has decided to quit social media for marketing purposes, citing “being tired of fighting algorithms in newsfeeds”. In terms of numbers, Lush was quite successfull: several 100k followers on Facebook, several 100k on Twitter and Instagram. Other companies would be very proud of these accompishments. And still, despite all these impressice numbers, Lush had a hard time to create engaging customer conversations and to reach customers. For Lush, the effort spent on social media was not worth it and they decided to put their efforts into more traditional areas, like talking with customers (“OH MY GOD!”). Lush may be the proverbial canary in the coalmine and a sign of things to come for social media platforms.
Social Media Platforms are Social Media Platforms
If you think about for a minute, it’s no surprise. Social media platforms are called social media platforms for a reason: they are for people socializing. But for some strange (self-serving?) reason, marketing people treat social media platforms like marketing/advertising platforms. They appear to forget that the original design of social media platforms was to find like minded people, to connect with them and to interact with them.
Social Media Platforms taking Advantage of Marketeers
Basically, all those advertising and marketing activities are an aftertought, born out of the need for social media platforms to generate money to operate those platforms. Over time, the platforms figured out that they can make even more money by convincing marketing people of the value of likes, impressions, shares, etc. Advertising, they argue, can be extremely effective since users are served only those ads that they will highly likely interact with, because social media platforms know the their users and their friends very well.
And that’s what those platforms did. They convinced legions of marketing people that the best way to advertise and to engage with customers is on social media platforms. Success can be measured with the simple “bigger is better formula”: the more impressions, likes, friends, followers, the better. In turn, marketing people did their best to convince businesses to pay them good money to manage marketing campaigns on social media platforms.
The Limits of Attention (and Ads)
However, since the attention of people is limited by the simple fact that a day has 24 hours and people cannot be on the platform all the time. So social media platforms optimized what their users see with the help of algorithms. These algorithms make sure (that’s at least the claim of social media companies) to balance the presence of advertisements and content created by users. Now, these algorithms ultimately control what users see on social media platforms. This gives social media companies the optimal handle to work with marketing people. The formula is simple: they more marketing people are willing to pay, the better the placement of the advertisements. And how to measure? With those numbers provided by the social media platform. There is no independent third party that can be asked if these numbers are accurate: you can only trust these numbers. Actually, this violates a fundamental principle in engineering. It’s called never trust the actuator. Always do an independent check.
A Sign of Things to come?
Lush quitting social media is a sign that they – after spending much money on social media platforms – realize that all those impressive numbers don’t really add up for their business. For them it’s better if they spend the money otherwise. I think, other companies should look very closely what is going on here. Maybe it’s time to quit social media for businesses and start their own independent customer network.