Annabelle Baker of Lush: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And…

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Annabelle Baker of Lush: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place

Read and re-read what has been written before responding; it’s easy to think you understand what has been said, but it’s so easy to misconstrue with your own biases.

As a part of our interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure of interviewing Annabelle Baker.

Annabelle Baker is the Global Brand Director at Lush, responsible for ensuring the brands’ messages are delivered successfully across the 52 markets in which Lush operates. Having started her Lush career in retail when she was 16, Annabelle is passionate about ensuring the customer is centered in all the decisions the brand makes and that all of the company’s communication touchpoints enable the customer to not only have a seamless experience, but to also learn a little more about the core brand focus to ‘Leave the World Lusher the we found it’.

After the introduction of Lush’s Anti-Social Policy in 2021, Annabelle has been instrumental in the Brand finding new ways to connect with audiences and advocating for safer spaces online.

Annabelle spent 8 years as a Director of Lush’s Hong Kong and Greater China business and is a passionate advocate for Lush having a diverse board and global leadership teams that are representative of the global business Lush is. As well as being responsible for Lush’s brand and marketing direction, Annabelle is currently also a Director of the Lush business in the USA and sits on the Global Lush Board.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I started at Lush 25 years ago on the shop floor and have made my way through various roles at the company including public relations, marketing, business development, new market entry, and mergers and acquisitions. At 16 years old, the idea of working at Lush kind of fell out of my kitchen fridge as my mother, who had a business across the street from a Lush shop, was an early fan of the fresh face masks and suggested I interview for a role there, the rest is history!

During my time at Lush, I’ve had the chance to not just work in new roles, but also live in new places, including eight years in Hong Kong, which really allowed me to grow and develop, not just as an employee but as a person. When you’re at an organization where learning is so intrinsic to its DNA like Lush, it is so easy to fall in love with the business and the people that work for it. Every day and opportunity feels like a fresh adventure.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

For background, my current career was not always the job I envisioned myself in. I had always wanted to work for the UN as a humanitarian officer.

During one of my work trips for Lush, I experienced a long airport delay in Uruguay going from Brazil to Chile. The aircraft was very small so during the four/five hour delay I got to talking with a fellow passenger in the terminal. It so happened that I noticed this man’s distinctive red ambassador passport and he introduced himself as a very senior official at the UN. We spent hours chatting and after our arrival, I received a very kind email saying he thought I’d be a great candidate for a UN position if I was interested in pursuing it.

This couldn’t have been more of a sliding door moment, but I didn’t pursue it as I was so happy (and still am!) in my career path at Lush; though my journey could have taken a very different path at that moment. It is very serendipitous though, especially as at Lush, I get to marry my passion for humanitarianism with my work. Our mission at Lush is to better the people, the planet and animals.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Back around 2003, Lush had another brand called Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful, which I was managing at the time, and we received a lot of celebrity fanfare for the brand. I had just come off a really busy period of a couple of months and finally had the opportunity to take a day off to relax. Of course, who comes into the shop that day, none other than Britney Spears, in the height of her career! I was so bummed about it, but it was such a great experience for my staff. I think the best lesson I learned from that is sometimes you just need to be grateful for some time off!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, I’m working on new campaign called #Endtheburnout to support mental health initiatives in alignment with Beyond the Music Festival. The #Endtheburnout campaign aims to create change-making action within the mental health sector of the global music industry by creating a voluntary code of conduct that industry professionals, including recording companies, management companies and artists can sign up to start building a greater understanding of the mental health needs of their industry and how to tackle them.

While this may seem like a small subset of individuals, at Lush, we feel it’s important to support our customers in whatever industry they are showing up in. I’m looking forward to Lush launching this initiative with a panel discussion at Manchester Central.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

Yes — I do see it happening to our customers as well, which is part of the reason why Lush created our “anti-social policy.” As a company, we only want to be part of platforms that protect our customers and all users from harassment, harm and manipulation, and especially platforms that use their algorithms to favor negative rhetoric, fake news and extreme viewpoints.

Growing up pre social has meant I have very limited experience with this personally. However, as a company, we hosted “Ask Me Anythings” on Reddit and pre the event we shared images of ourselves. There were a few unrelated comments on how I looked in the image and although the comments weren’t aggressive — you realize how easy it is for people to forget that we are real.

From a business perspective, as Lush is a campaigning company and we are very open and passionate about the actions we support, we do sometimes get negative feedback on social threads that can spill into real life in our stores. It is so important to me to protect our employees both on and offline to know that they are valued.

I think one of the biggest points I take away from these interactions is realizing that online conversation is really a one-way street, which is why I feel it’s so imperative we take our conversations (and actions!) offline, in a two-way format. It’s so hard to read tone online, so it’s challenging to know exactly how a person is emoting.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I think it’s just really about looking out for yourself and looking after others while staying firm in your values. One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson, “in matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock,” and I really do feel that showing your confidence in caring for causes and people really allows others to take comfort in you and stand with you.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

Of course, both online and in real life, you can lose your cool in the heat of the moment. I think as a person, I’m very mindful of this and like to stop and take a second to really assess a situation before I take action. One moment I’m not very proud of was posting a negative review for a Hong Kong restaurant over 10 years ago. I was annoyed in the moment because as a vegetarian, they could not offer me a single food option that fit my dietary restrictions. I remember sitting at the table and putting a one-star rating online — in the moment, I was infuriated.

Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?

Retrospectively, I realize that this was done in the heat of the moment and if I had really taken a minute, I wouldn’t have emoted so abruptly. I really live by the standard if you aren’t going to say something to someone’s face, don’t say it online; you aren’t going to change someone or inspire them this way.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

I think there’s always going to be that initial feeling of embarrassment, it’s a natural reaction for most people. It can feel very unfair when something like this is done in such a public setting, especially when you don’t have the ability to defend yourself. As I mentioned, social media conversation is really a one-way street and not like a dialogue. Of course, this can lead to anxiety, stress and as we’ve seen in the news in the worst cases, people have very sadly ended their lives over it.

I feel very grateful to have grown up in the 90s when social media was not a thing, but I am now raising children in a world where this is of course the norm. We all do silly things when we’re growing up and make mistakes, but to now have that cataloged online for the rest of our lives is a serious conversation I will have with my children when they are of-age to use these platforms.

Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

I think it’s a lot harder to get into a viable dialogue online vs in real life. The most major difference being the setting. Online, anyone can jump in, in a public sphere with their two cents, even if they do not have any need to. In person, yes, there may be people around you, but the conversation is between parties and is back-and-forth. Offline, you have the opportunity to listen, respond and read the situation and body language which is something that is not feasible online. It’s also much harder to read tone online which is why, I feel, conversation ends up escalating quicker because it is the narrative we are hearing, not necessarily the one that is actually being said. In real life, you also have the opportunity to walk away from a conversation without more people jumping in — online, it can feel like the world is ganging up on you even if you’ve since left the conversation.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

I do think that both short and long term, online shaming has lasting effects on mental health. Both public and private figures can get into dangerous situations that have major impacts like anxiety and depression, and have, in the worst cases, caused people to end their lives.

Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands or even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?

  • I think that people feel they can be meaner online as it is not a face-to-face conversation, but with that, there is also a perception issue because, again, it is so hard to read tone online.
  • At our Lush House at SXSW, Mica Le John, CEO & Co-Founder of Idoru, said that from her work, she is seeing that more people who are prolifically mean online tend to be older than younger, which I find very interesting. She said that because millennials and upwards have a distinct recognition of online v. offline way of life, we grew up IRL, not URL, unlike Gen Z and Gen A., because millennials and upwards have a distinct online/offline way of life.
  • I hope that we can look to Gen Z and A to shift the narrative of online “meanness” as they have a better understanding of real-world consequences for URL.

If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?

  1. Pause and think; Really think about why you want to respond to something and what the outcome of your response will be?
  2. Read and re-read what has been written before responding; it’s easy to think you understand what has been said, but it’s so easy to misconstrue with your own biases.
  3. Make sure you are interacting with content with your own lived experience; are you qualified to be adding relevant information to the conversation?
  4. Don’t make everything about you; just because you relate to something, doesn’t mean it’s solely directed or about you.
  5. Follow the golden rule; if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. There’s no need to fill the world with negativity!

Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?

As a British citizen, I don’t feel I have the authority to comment here, but I do, of course, feel very passionately about freedom of speech. Because our feeds aren’t organic and the algorithm favors posts with engagement which typically spikes on hate speech and negative rhetoric, it’s impossible to ignore. I think that freedom of speech shouldn’t necessarily come with this freedom of reach when users don’t have the ability to control their own news feeds.

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

The number one thing I would do is shift to organic feeds and get rid of algorithms. Users should have the opportunity to see what they want, not what dollar signs or engagement dictates as important. It’s imperative that there’s a system for proper content moderation from both AI and human controls. With that, topics like self-harm should not be allowed at all. Additionally, there needs to be stricter age limits or young adult versions of platforms; I think that YouTube Kids is a really great example of reimaging a platform for a younger audience. It’s crazy to me that some platforms you can be part of before you’re allowed to vote or drink, yet you can be fed content that is well beyond what youthful eyes should see.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I find that this is so relevant to my life and my career at Lush. I’ve stayed with Lush for so long because the people who work here and that I interact with daily make me feel good. Walking into a Lush shop makes me feel like I’m stepping away from the rest of the world and allowing someone else to take care of me.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

In a professional sense, I would love to pick Mark Zuckerberg and really ask him what is stopping him from making his platform (and the world!) a better place.

In a personal sense, I have always been enamored by Serena Williams; I’m a massive tennis fan. When Serena came onto the tennis scene, she was so powerful and different from other women competitors, and I just found her to be so impressive; especially at a time when diversity was so limited in the sport. Her career has outlasted her time on the courts, and she made such a positive impact on a sport where one can get so many negative comments both externally and in their own head. I really admire her ability to self-motivate and pivot her mentality when things aren’t going well.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Annabelle Baker of Lush: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.