When social media first popped up in the late 90’s, none of us could have predicted the astronomical growth it would undergo, nor the influence it would ultimately hold over our lives.
What began as a way to simply connect with friends, has since become one of the most powerful global platforms of our time, able to reach millions of targeted people in milliseconds and influence the way we shop, vote, and even feel. Evolving far beyond your typical networking tool, social media has opened up opportunities for not only the every-day-scroller, but for businesses also.
But is the way we use social media set to change? And have brands had enough?
MacGregor Black takes a closer look at social media, and why some brands are taking a permanent break from it.
Social Media vs… The Battle of the Brands
With Facebook alone connecting 2.11 billion users all over the globe, it’s no surprise that social media has come to play an integral part in many of our lives. But with such scale, how is it possible to monitor and control 2.11billion individual narratives? The simple answer is… it isn’t.
With such publicity, comes scrutiny. And as platforms such as Facebook continue to embed themselves deeper into our society, many users are beginning to highlight some of their potential negative effects. One particular issue that continues to dominate the conversation, is social media’s relationship with our mental health.
In recent years, research has provided us with a plentiful evidence pool linking social media usage with a number of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and body dysmorphia. According to a 2022 Healthline study of 1,042 U.S citizens, 29% of participants of all age groups felt they needed to take regular social media breaks, in order to feel a benefit to their mental health. This number increased to a shocking 46% amongst 15–24-year-olds.
So, what can be done about this, and who’s responsibility is it to take control?
Noting the negative effects that social media was having on many of its customers, global cosmetics company, Lush, took a stand; and in 2021, decided to cut ties with online platforms Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook.
The British retailer released a statement to accompany their decision:
“From 26th November 2021, the global Lush brand will be turning its back on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat, until the platforms take action to provide a safer environment for users. This policy is rolling out across all the 48 countries where Lush operates. In the same way that evidence against climate change was ignored and belittled for decades, concerns about the serious effects of social media are going largely ignored now. Lush is taking matters into its own hands and addressing the issues now, not waiting around until others believe in the problem before changing its own behaviour.”
Tesla Motors & SpaceX
Pre-dating Lush’s decision by almost three years, in March 2018, tech billionaire Elon Musk joined the race against social media; deliberately deleting both Tesla’s and SpaceX’s Facebook business pages.
Having regularly aired his opinion publicly, it is widely known that Elon Musk distrusts the way Facebook handles their consumer data. The decision then came to pull both his business pages, following a tragically historic week for the social media company, one that still sits fresh in our memory. In 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal prompted a wave of mistrust against Facebook, which later gave rise to the #deletefacebook hashtag.
At the time of the scandal, WhatsApp Co-Founder, Brian Acton tweeted in protest, “it is time #deletefacebook”, in which Musk responded sarcastically, “What’s Facebook?”. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur then went on to tweet that he thought Tesla’s Facebook page was “lame”.
In a final act, Musk was challenged by Twitter users to delete Tesla’s and SpaceX’s pages, “if he really was ‘the man’”, and in typical form, Musk declared he would delete them immediately. Sure enough, in under 30 minutes both business pages were cut from Facebook, and the following media attention, combined with the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, caused Facebook’s stock to plunge 6%.
Elon Musk has since gained the reputation as the modern day ‘Robin-Hood’ of free speech, as in April of this year, the eccentric billionaire made another daring move. This time, against Twitter.
In an effort to force change, on April 14th of this year, Musk made a bid to buy the social networking site for $54.20 per share, putting one of the world’s richest people at the helm of one of the world’s most influential platforms. Musk declared that, should the deal go through, his first priority would be to crack down on data management. However, only weeks after Elon’s rather rambunctious offer, he sought to terminate the deal, citing concerns over the social media company’s use of bots on the platform, artificially inflating their user numbers. Claims which were later supported by a company whistle blower. Twitter has since sued Musk to follow through with the acquisition. The judge overseeing the case has given both parties until the 28th of October to close the deal or face a trial in November.
In 2021, globally established fashion house, Bottega Veneta announced their own bold move to completely cut social media from their marketing strategy.
Creative Director, Daniel Lee, stated in an interview with The Guardian that, “there is a mood of playground bullying on social media which I don’t really like. I wanted to do something joyful instead… I don’t want to collude in an atmosphere that feels negative.” However, despite personal comments from Lee, the Bottega Veneta company refrained from releasing an official statement to explain their swift exit from social media. Leading fans to believe that perhaps this was the company’s latest strategic move in creating the ultimate luxury brand?
Kalyani Saha Chawla, former VP of Marketing & Communications at Dior believes luxury brands need to re-consider the fine balance between over-accessibility and exclusivity, quoting to Grazia UK that,
“luxury brands are diluting their image by using the same social mediums that every high street brand is utilising. Luxury stands for exclusivity, and if it’s all over Instagram and Twitter, it becomes too accessible, which might not resonate with a niche audience.”
A message that sat fittingly with Bottega Veneta’s social media departure, as it came less than a month after it unveiled its exclusive “Salon 01 Spring/Summer Show”, which was being secretly recorded at the time. Shortly after Bottega Veneta’s decision to ditch social, luxury apparel brand, Balenciaga quickly followed suit, wiping all of its content from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Perhaps another strategic move with this decision also preceding the brand’s first haute couture show in over 50 years…
Answering the Burning Question… What Happened Next?
In today’s society, it’s near impossible to picture a global company succeeding without a social media presence, but alas…some of our favourite cosmetics companies, automotive developers and high-end fashion brands claim they are already paving the way to find a successful future without ‘the Gram’.
After announcing their departure from its social media channels in 2021, cosmetics brand Lush turned to creating what they felt would be, authentic, quality content on the company’s online site instead. At the time, the company released a statement assuring shoppers that, ‘there are plenty of other places to take a dip into the Lush world’, stating that customers could still engage with the brand through shops, events, through the customer care team and on other digital platforms like Lush Player, Lush.com and their Lush Labs app. However, it’s worth noting that some individual stores and Lush staff continued to be active on social media and the company even encouraged customers to continue using branded lush hashtags to promote their content organically. Meaning Lush would remain true to its anti-social media protest, whilst also still staying fresh on the screens of shoppers across the globe.
SpaceX & Tesla
Following Elon Musk’s bold decision to delete both SpaceX and Tesla’s business Facebook pages, the company went on the make an even bolder move in 2020, officially dissolving it’s entire PR department; dubbing it the first automaker to no longer engage with the press. When asked to comment on the move, the billionaire business magnate stated that he wouldn’t go back to having a PR department because he ‘doesn’t believe in manipulating public opinion,’. He responded to a twitter user that encouraged the reinstatement of the Tesla PR team, saying, ‘Other companies spend money on advertising & manipulating public opinion, Tesla focuses on the product. I trust the people.’
So, with a much-reduced social media presence and absolutely no PR staff, how does a multi-billion-dollar business like Tesla expect to stay ahead of the curve?
Well, the American clean energy company relies heavily on one of the most effective marketing strategies out there, word of mouth. Tesla runs a highly popular referral program that encourages customers to share their love for the brand with their friends and family. Tesla enthusiasts, and their referees can earn rewards like free supercharger miles and cash to spend on energy efficient products. Not only that, but the electric vehicle manufacturer also manages multiple customer forums, hosts a global ‘owners club’, and is regularly involved in giving back to the communities they operate in. All of which are great ways to establish a strong brand message without even so much as a ‘share’. However, it’s worth noting that Musk himself has been a driving force behind Tesla and SpaceX’s ongoing success. His loud, charismatic, and sometimes even controversial social media presence certainly draws enough attention to both brands…
Founded in 1996 in Vicenza, Italy by Michele Taddei and Renzo Zengiaro, Bottega Veneta has since firmly established itself as a high-end, luxury fashion house. Their fine leather handbags and quality crafted accessories don the frames of wealthy style icons in all corners of the world, that no doubt, enjoy scrolling as much as the rest of us.
Which is precisely what Bottega Veneta was counting on…
Despite not posting on their business account anymore, Bottega Veneta lives on through the Instagram pages of their loyal customers, influencers, and external partnerships. Rather than coming directly from the brand, content like product launches, events, and brand promotions make the rounds mainly through organic, user-generated content. Which enhances the brand’s exclusive image and cuts out a huge chunk of their workload. So, in theory, they can kick back and reap the rewards as customers are naturally drawn to their brand.
A strategy in which Bottega Veneta took to heart as at the time, the luxury brand doubled down on its quarterly online magazine in what they hoped would offer, “more progressive and more thoughtful” content. A goal in which many say they have successfully achieved since then.
MacGregor Black’s Global Head of Marketing, Mark Thursby, commented:
“I couldn’t agree more with Kalyani Saha Chawla, in that many Luxury brands sit in a precarious position. One that almost caused the demise of the iconic British Fashion Brand Burberry during the 1990’s, where high demand was met with ease of accessibility. And I believe social media is currently turbocharging just that, or the false impression that luxury products are easily accessible.
Social media is a great equaliser in that it grants the average user access to countless celebrity and influencer lifestyles, mixed in with our friends and family. However, when our feeds are excessively filled with luxury goods, this directly drives demand to a potentially dangerous level. Therefore, when accessibility meets it, in the form of ‘replica’ products, via short-term financing options such as fashion rental, or services such as Klarna, a brand can pass a point of which it’s presence in a market is too heavily saturated and it ceases being perceived as ‘luxury’.
The same theory applies across the board. From cars, to homes, to holidays, and even our own physical appearance. When social media creates the illusion that all of these brilliant products are easily attainable, and not just that, they’re owned by your neighbour, your best friend, and the people you went to school with, the potential to damage a person’s self-esteem can be severe.
Therefore, with brands withdrawing from social media it’ll be very interesting to see what impact that has in the long-term. Will losing the central voice of their brand, do the opposite of what they aim to achieve, and create a more customer-controlled brand image? Or will it dampen demand down to sustainable levels and drive traffic through more ‘traditional’ channels where brands can better manage the battle between demand and access?”
Whilst there are many advantageous qualities to the root-and-branch reform of social media, something brands should consider is, one of most identifying features of a successful business is its powerful approach to customer loyalty. What social media offers consumers is the ability to receive quick responses via direct messaging, as well as the opportunity to engage with brands honestly and publicly on live comments. Some argue that, as a result of axing social media, businesses run the risk of potentially thinning the line of communication between themselves and their customers.
Is This the Way Forward?
Without doubt, social media is one of the most impactful and cost-effective marketing tools available today. But as we’ve recently discovered, some brands are beginning to stand up and take notice of the damage it may be causing to, not just to their customers or their brand image, but to wider society in general. Dubbed with a disregarding attitude towards mental health, rocky data management processes, and the potential to banish a brand’s luxury image, is the social media sparkle slowly dwindling?
And as globally recognised brands like Bottega Veneta, Tesla and Lush radically re-think their social media strategies, many of us are left asking the question, is this the beginning of the great social media snub?