And they are just the latest examples of major businesses rethinking their use of social media in recent years.
In July 2020, more than 1,000 global companies temporarily stopped paid advertising on Facebook in protest of the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on the platform. Over a year later, Patagonia continues to boycott the social media giant. The outdoor brand appears to have deleted its US Facebook page and still doesn’t pay for advertising on the site.
Other high-profile departures go all the way back to 2018, when Tesla and SpaceX deleted their Facebook pages and British pub chain Wetherspoon stepped away from all social media channels.
How effective is it really?
Decisions like these are rare. A recent survey of 250 business executives in the US found that 91 per cent plan to increase their company’s social media marketing budget over the next three years, and 89 per cent believe that companies that don’t invest in social media marketing will be left behind.
But that same survey highlights some of the key issues that may be driving other brands to quit social media. Less than half of executives believe social media is very effective when it comes to strengthening their brand image, engaging with customers, raising brand awareness, increasing sales, or growing their customer base.
This seems to be the reason Bottega Veneta has moved away from social media. The brand’s then-creative director Daniel Lee explained his decision in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year: “Social media represents the homogenisation of culture,” Lee said. “Everyone sees the same stream of content. A huge amount of thought goes into what I do, and social media oversimplifies it.”
In March, the luxury brand launched Issue, a quarterly online magazine that Lee hopes will provide “more progressive and more thoughtful” content than users can find on social media.
A question of time and money
“Brands may also decide to leave social because it just isn’t sustainable for them to keep up. For many, it could come down to a decision of whether they can afford the time and financial investment to properly support social efforts,” Melissa Packham, a former marketing manager at Campbell Arnott’s and the director of Brand-Led Business, told Inside Retail.
“Because it’s a 24/7 requirement, and needs tight processes across departments (marketing, customer service, research & development, legal), it’s so much more than just keeping up with content. Without an in-house social team, many brands find it annoyingly complex to outsource to agencies, as so much internal input is still needed.”
This was part of the reason that Wetherspoon decided to ditch Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook three years ago. The pub chain had a sprawling network of hundreds of different accounts managed by individual locations, and the burden of posting new content, responding to customers, and blocking trolls was preventing staff from doing their “real job of serving customers”, Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin said at the time.
The pub chain also linked the move to bad publicity surrounding social media, including the trolling of MPs. Just one month previously, a whistleblower had revealed how data analytics company Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of Facebook profiles without their consent to help Donald Trump target American voters during his 2016 presidential campaign.
While Whetherspoon didn’t mention the data harvesting scandal in its explanation of the decision to leave Facebook, it was a key factor for Musk, who voiced his support for the #deletefacebook campaign that emerged on Twitter following the revelation, and got rid of his company Facebook pages for Tesla and SpaceX shortly thereafter.
Negative impact on society
Questions about the impact of social media platforms on society have only intensified since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Facebook advertising freeze last July was directly related to the perception that racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech have been allowed to proliferate on the platform with insufficient intervention from the social media giant.
While most of the brands that participated in the freeze have resumed advertising on Facebook, Patagonia continues to boycott the platform. And after the most recent allegations of concerning behaviour at the social media giant, the outdoor brand’s CEO Ryan Gellert is urging other businesses to do the same.
In October, the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles alleging that Facebook has internal data showing the negative impact of Instagram on young girls’ mental health, has turned a blind eye to human trafficking on its platform, and has failed to hire enough staff to moderate problematic content, such as hate speech, in languages other than English.
These reports were the final straw for Lush, which had tried to quit Facebook and Instagram in 2019, but found itself pulled back in by the need to connect with customers during the pandemic. In November, the company announced it was leaving Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat – four of the most popular social media platforms in the Western world – until they change the way they operate.
“Our current plan is to come off the platforms that have chosen to ignore their own evidence, but we will return if they make their spaces safe,” Lush spokespeople told Inside Retail.
“And for platforms that have acknowledged there are problems and promise to change, we will currently bear with them and continue to use their services in the expectation that improvements are coming.”
‘The medium is the message’
Regardless of the reason why a brand decides to quit social media, the impact on its business is likely to be significant.
“Social media is the dominant form of media for many young people, and it’s an especially important channel for a more lifestyle based company such as Lush. It could easily lead to them becoming irrelevant to a large chunk of young consumers,” Mark Baartse, a digital marketing expert, told Inside Retail.
“Lush have predicted a drop of £10 million in sales, but I suspect they may be underestimating the longer term brand value of social.”
Packham agrees that it’s a big risk, so she doesn’t expect to see a big wave of brands following suit. But she also notes that using these platforms, and thus, tacitly supporting their behaviour, could be risky too.
“As brands continue to jump on the social cause bandwagon, there will come a point where they’ll need to consider the ripple effect. The medium is the message, after all,” she said.
“Brands that claim to be standing for good, but continue to pour marketing dollars at platforms which actively turn a blind eye to discrimination, violence and oppression – without lobbying them to do better – may find themselves with an ethical dilemma.”