Is it time to pull your brand from social media?

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In April last year Tim Martin, the founder and chair of the British pub chain Wetherspoon, announced that he was shutting down the company’s social media channels depriving 100,000 Facebook followers and 6,000 Instagram devotees of their direct link to the company

Martin told the BBC the decision was driven by the “misuse of personal data” and “the addictive nature of social media.”

“The people who are on it wish their friends were off of it because they’re addicted to it,” Martin said.

At the time many social media pundits were sceptical of whether the Wetherspoon move would spark a trend of companies leaving social media. The announcement came not long after the introduction of GDPR and all the complications that it has brought to businesses. Martin is also a controversial figure due to his political opinions and it is fair to say that he has taken some personal abuse on some of the channels.

There were also questions about how much money and resources Wetherspoons had allocated to their output and whether a pub chain really needed to be on social media in the first place.

Yet anyone who had written the Wetherspoon withdrawal as a one off would have been much more surprised by the recent announcement of luxury soap retailers Lush to pull the plug from its social channels. The news came in April with the company saying “we’re switching up social.⁣ Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly. We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. So we’ve decided it’s time to bid farewell to some of our social channels and open up the conversation between you and us instead.⁣”

Lush’s move is intriguing on many levels as the company had been very vocal on social media and on Instagram had amassed a very respectable number of followers.

At this point, it would be churlish to call the actions of two companies a trend, but there does seem to be a backlash against using social and I would wager that the two won’t be the last high profile brands to exit social media this year. Here are a few of the reasons why brands may be re-assessing their social output and what their options in the future might be.

Tired of investing – As the Lush statement alluded to companies are constantly battling the algorithm in Facebook – which prioritises posts from friends, family and groups over brands – and Instagram. Maintaining an audience on Facebook can be expensive as the only way to ensure reach now is to invest in boosts for posts. Some brands have become weary of constantly giving money to social platforms.

Backlash against social media – The criticisms of social media, which began in earnest after the 2016 EU and US presidential elections, have not disappeared but have actually intensified. A recent survey conducted by YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project of more than 25,000 people on a range of topics including populism, globalism and technology, showed that more than four in five Britons distrust platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Then there is also the question of how the platforms are impacting a nation’s young with a 2019 poll from The Royal Society for Public Health study finding that in many instances platforms like Instagram are contributing to depression among teens.

Questions about engagement – Some brands are also questioning not just the levels of engagement they get with their followers through social media, but also how deep that engagement really is. What does a like on Instagram, often given away freely without much thought, actually mean to a brand, especially when they can’t add external links at their posts?

Suitability for social – Ultimately there are many brands with well funded social strategies who might be better off investing their money elsewhere. B2b brands with Facebook pages or creators of commodity style products trying to generate excitement about their output on Instagram might find their exertions probably isn’t worth the effort.

Time for an audit

What should brands that are concerned about their social media output and its effectiveness do? The most important thing is to undertake a wide ranging social media audit. It is highly likely that some of the brands who are considering quitting social could do things in a more effective way. This was an accusation levelled against Wetherspoon, but could also apply to many other brands.

If brands do leave social there are many options. Investing resources into a company website is an obvious one, and this can be backed by focusing on digital advertising both in the media generally and via Google specifically. Lush boasts a vibrant, content-rich website and it is clear that its withdrawal from social has revitalised its owned content output. This is a route that many other brands might once again find very attractive given the control and flexibility it gives the company.

The recalibration caused by GDPR has meant that email marketing is very much back in vogue. Surely a person opening an email is many hundred times more valuable than them giving a cursory like on Instagram?

We are also likely to see the emergence of new platforms built in very different ways to the ones that dominate the social media landscape at the moment. For example, Tick, a UK based video platform which empowers its users to create simple how to videos on the go. It has been designed to keep out the clutter, and in the words of one of the founders, the narcissism that often dogs social media.

It is unlikely we will see too many companies following Lush and Wetherspoon just yet. Now though is a very smart time for companies to assess their social media output determining what is actually helping build brand awareness and fostering better customer relationships, and what is simply pushing out the content into the ether.

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