LUSH’s decision to follow Wetherspoons into the social media wilderness is generating two contrasting points of view.
On the one hand, marketers are arguing that social media is too demanding in terms of budget, resources and content.
On the other hand, customers are whinging that they now have nowhere to leave their feedback and complaints.
Not that these two views are necessarily mutually exclusive.
Early social media strategy
Initially, many companies took to social media to increase reach and build buzz. A sale or two might even be recorded.
There were competitions and promotions galore, and plenty of grinning employee photos and CSR fluffiness to make people feel well disposed.
Lo and behold, follower and ‘engagement’ rates rose and management was delighted. Now we’re onto something, they figured.
The trouble was that they didn’t really know who was signing up or why they were doing so. And, frankly, they didn’t much care as long as the numbers continued to travel in the right direction.
So email addresses and telephone numbers were amassed, channels proliferated, customer segments segmented, and ‘conversations’ sparked.
Customers appreciated it for a while. It was fun and involving and every now and again you might receive a free bar of soap or a voucher for a half pint of Tennent’s – provided you told your friends about it.
A sting in the strategic tail
Unsurprisingly, things then rather quickly became distracting and tedious and occasionally menacing.
Promotions and content, even when they were properly considered and delivered, easily became lightning rods for discontent, their sponsors oblivious to the fact that the customer wants to use social media for real interaction, a true conversation, a proper peek into the soul of the company.
Complaints sky-rocketed, some went viral, and, as detailed in my book Managing Online Reputation, there was plenty of egg on brand and corporate faces.
Smart B2C companies like KLM started to realise that social media was better suited to brand building and customer care than promotions.
Meantime, B2B firms such as BASF approached social first and foremost as a reputational insurance policy should a crisis or incident hit.
These kinds of organisations are reaping the trust and loyalty rewards.
Meantime, LUSH and Weatherspoons retreat from their customers has exposed their reputations to the frustrations and anger of the crowd to a far greater extent.
According to LUSH’s final tweet, ‘This isn’t the end, it’s just the start of something new’.
Let’s hope so.
Update: LUSH has since clarified it is not withdrawing from social media, but is switching focus to its own channels, initially in the UK.
It might be considered rather ironic that it used social media (amongst other channels) to make this statement – and only underlines my point about reputation management.