Brands leave social media: is 2019 really the year of escape?

12 September 2019

Brands leave social media. The announcement by Unicredit, the main Italian banking group, of Facebook and other platforms owned by Mark Zuckerberg was discussed a lot last May. The announcement came in just under a month from that of Lush UK, which, with a surprise move and different assumptions, chose to stop publishing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. What is going on? Unicredit seems to have implemented a real exit strategy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, first stopping advertising investments on Facebook (March 2018) and definitively from 1 June 2019 closing the official page, the Instagram profile and Messenger. Reason? As stated in the last post published before the page was turned off: “enhance the digital proprietary channels to guarantee a confidential and high quality dialogue”. As the leading Italian daily newspaper noted, the choice seems to be justified both by ethical / reputational and economic reasons. Unicredit has preferred to shift its marketing budget to proprietary channels, which it controls, rather than continuing to invest in a third platform that it no longer trusts, which knows its customers’ data, and which requires creating content at incessant pace and at the price of continuous advertising investments. The perfect machine. That of Zuckerberg.

The premises of Lush are different, but the epilogue is identical. The tweet of last April 8 reads “We are tired of fighting with algorithms and we want to pay to your newsfeed”. For Lush it is above all a question of brand positioning. Lush is known for its minimal packaging products, for its activism on environmental issues and for not doing animal tests. A community of customers gathered around Lush who have embraced the cause of the brand. Authentic dialogue with this community is the main lever of Lush’s marketing. Until the organic reach of Facebook (but also that of Twitter and Instagram) allowed Lush to reach a good percentage of the audience of its fans and followers, managing an official presence made sense. But today, that reach is “dead”, it has no more. Why keep posting content if nobody can read it?

Since 2011, Facebook has repeatedly changed the Edgerank, the algorithm that determines how much brand content appears on fan newsfeeds, progressively reducing the reach of organic posts. The number of people who receive a post is around 1-2% of the fan base today; therefore, to be clear, only 1,000 or 2,000 users are reached by a content published on the page of a brand that counts 1 million fans. And there are those who say that this percentage could soon be zero. To counter this decline, brands have tried them all. The publication frequency has increased: more posts, more users reached. They experimented with content formats of all kinds, in a strenuous struggle for attention. And they ended up supporting the distribution of content on the platform with increasing advertising investments. Visibility for a fee, in short. Facebook’s turnover is clear: from 3 billion dollars in 2011 to over 55 billion at the end of 2018. Advertising sales, with 80 million business pages on the platform, exploded. Lush however does not make advertising investments on social media. By choice. What to do then?

It starts again from the relationship, authentic and not mediated, with the community of its customers, from its own “tribes”, and from the “owned media”. Seth Godin, one of the most respected marketing experts in the world and author of “The purple cow”, had declared this in unsuspected times last February on the pages of Il Sole 24 Ore: “We have to get the brands off the social media carousel , which goes faster and faster, but never comes anywhere. The time has come to stop convincing with insistence and to disturb or spam, pretending to be welcome”. It is therefore useless to look for a general and mass public on social media, replicating on Facebook what we have been doing for many years on TV. It is time for brands to take a position and focus on public niches. It is therefore the time for marketers to make courageous choices and to rethink the objectively tired and repetitive strategies that have characterized the past decade. We talk about this and much more during Digital Strategy, part of the Master in New Media and Marketing Communication created by BBS to prepare future marketers. The 7th edition of the Master is at the starting blocks. The Master is held in English and is attended by students from all over the world.

Author: Roberto Ciacci

Profesor of Master in New Media and Marketing Communication


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