LinkedIn Caught In Viral Fuss Over Bikini Luxe
Life’s a beach on social media for Candice Galek. She’s the 20-something Millennial CEO of Miami-based swimwear startup Bikini Luxe. Candice has been turning heads on LinkedIn lately by implementing a controversial social marketing strategy that is, shall we say, a bit revealing.
The young CEO of the two year-old online retailer specializes in -- you guessed it -- selling designer bikinis. However, Bikini Luxe also offers a variety of leisurewear for both men and women alike, some of which does not reveal so much skin. Nevertheless, many LinkedIn users have taken offense to her posting photos of scantily-clad models in the swimwear she sells.
Despite the hurricane of contention swirling around her, Candice has managed to maximize the social media attention to benefit her business. She's built a large network of followers on LinkedIn that now numbers over 37,000. She and her company are also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social platforms. Additionally, user engagement and sales continue to increase, as she told me during an exclusive interview.
Thus, the question arises: What constitutes offensive content on LinkedIn?
As usual, the proverbial beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
On one hand, many men (and perhaps some women) don’t seem to mind staring at the provocative Bikini Luxe photos. On the other hand, some women and men alike have found such content to be distasteful, if not sexist. They assert that, if nothing else, it’s simply unprofessional to post such content on LinkedIn which offers a more button-down corporate user experience.
The controversy surrounding Bikini Luxe has generated an online firestorm.
Thousands of LinkedIn users have voiced their views – some good, some bad, some indifferent, some supportive and some venomous. Regardless, Candice has capitalized on her moment in the sun with blog posts on her company website detailing the travails of her LinkedIn experience. Some of her content has been removed from this platform and she was even temporarily banned.
She writes on her company’s blog, “I would like to again reiterate that this was an update on my personal page and I do not have control over if it shows up in your feed. If anyone felt offended I would like to apologize and if you would kindly message me I will block you from my connections so you will no longer have to see my updates.”
Meanwhile, Candice’s social marketing strategy has paid dividends in terms of boosting her brand image and that of the startup company she founded.
According to her website, BikiniLuxe.com, Candice founded the company due to a sense of being “inspired by her travels and life growing up in sunny South Florida, she knew style and comfort had to be the basis of her brand. She started out with a few local companies, working from her small dining room table in Miami Beach, and hand writing and packing every order that came in…”
“Thanks to word of mouth and social media, her online swimwear shop went from being her little baby to somewhat of an unruly teenager early on, and has not slowed down since. Bikini Luxe now lives in a large warehouse in Miami, and carries the third largest selection of luxury swimwear in the world.”
In addition to LinkedIn, Candice has carved out a large fan base on other social platforms, such as Instagram. It's important to note that she's not just selling a product or brand, but a lifestyle experience based on sun, fun and beautiful women showcasing their beach bodies -- and living the good life.
Following are 15 questions I posed to Candice, along with her responses, during a wide-ranging interview focusing on the content controversy:
1) Why do you think some LinkedIn users are offended by the photos you post?
Galek: “This is not a simple question, as there are a multitude of different reasons. The primary reason is that LinkedIn is not somewhere you expect to see pictures such as this – but, as you can see from the trending and most commented on posts on LinkedIn, this seems to be changing."
"There is a huge fear or ‘Facebookification’ from many LinkedIn users."
“The reality of this,” she says, “is social media in its purest form. The public chooses what it sees. If you do not like what you are seeing then you always have the option to opt out.”
2) How do you respond to critics who claim you're “selling sex” or say that such photos are the equivalent of "soft porn" on a social platform catering to the C-Suite?
Galek: “I respond to them with this: I post pictures no different than you would see on a bus stop or on a magazine in your local grocery store.”
3) What's the business case for using photos which some consider offensive?
Galek: “For me it is simple branding. I plan to make ‘Bikini Luxe’ a household name. What better venue could there be than one that is in direct support of building your business?"
"I have gotten flak from many so-called marketing professionals for not including my logo or watermarks on the pictures. The reason I leave these off is simple: good marketing gets you to look and pay attention, while great marketing creates an emotional response."
"For me it is all about creating that emotional response, because this is what will make you remember my brand. Would I rather have 100 people like my post or 41,000 -- my current record for Likes on a post."
"To the critics that say I am not a good marketer, I ask this: when is the last time you got 16,000 comments on something you created? If that many people took the time to comment, how many people do you think saw my post?"
4) Have you received any complaints from LinkedIn?
Galek: "Yes, initially I was sharing every product that we sell. I understand that the social norms may not be the same for everyone -- especially because LinkedIn is an international platform -- so I have taken the approach of choosing more classy and less revealing products in order to upset fewer people.”
“There is a fine line between being memorable and being over the top.”
5) How do you respond to women who allege that your photos are sexist and detract from female professionalism? Do you want men focusing on women's bodies more than work experience and merit?
Galek: “Everyone is welcome to their opinion, and I am of a different one. The models we shoot are professional models who earn their living from showcasing their beauty. Many people do not realize that the two piece bikini is an $8 billion dollar industry in the USA alone. The fashion industry is a $250 billion dollar industry. We are talking about a lot of jobs!”
6) Do you think it’s fair for any social media platform to remove the bikini photos you post, or would that be more like censorship?
Galek: “Censorship, plain and simple. And it is completely arbitrary with absolutely no chance for rebuttal. I understand that this is something that LinkedIn has struggled with, but I ask you this: if 40,000 people like a post, how many people have to be offended before they delete it? And before LinkedIn deletes a post that hours of time and effort have gone into, should they not give the author a chance to rebut the detractors?”
7) Have you received more support or criticism from LinkedIn users?
Galek: “The majority of the feedback has been positive, and the negativity and criticism has created an incredible amount of business and media attention."
"Being featured in Forbes five times in two months has caught the attention of some very influential people from around the world. Billionaires, senators, royalty and founders of massive corporations are just some of the connections that have come about. The advice and support I have received has been absolutely invaluable.”
8) Has favorable user feedback come from all parts of the world?
Galek: “The social norms in different places such as India and the Middle East will always be different than those of, say, North America. What we take for granted -- pictures that you would see in a magazine in your doctor’s office -- may be considered risqué in other parts of the world. I have respect for all cultures and have no wish to offend.”
“They say there is no such thing as bad press. I believe in myself and my business, and will never let the naysayers or detractors slow me down. If anything, they just make me more determined to reach great heights.”
9) Do you think beauty and fashion in general, and bikinis in particular, represent legitimate business on LinkedIn?
“You tell me, how many other industries can say they are worth a quarter-trillion dollars?”
10) On a more personal level, to what do you attribute your business success at a young age?
Galek: “Being extremely passionate about my business and being willing to work 18-hour days every day.
“Success is not something that just happens, you have to create it.”
11) Do you think that sexism and stereotypes of women are problematic in the workplace generally?
Galek: “I think that sometimes women are hyper sensitive to these stereotypes. However, many strong women have persevered and risen through the ranks despite these issues.”
12) Do you support women's rights issues, such as equal pay for equal work?Galek: “Equal pay for equal work is an absolute must.”
Social Media Censorship
13) What are your views about censorship on social media? Specifically, do you think women entrepreneurs, like you, are held to a double standard?
Galek: “I think that in some cases small business owners may be held to a different standard than large companies. If you look at companies such as Victoria's Secret or Agent Provocateur, the pictures they post on their company pages are no different than the ones that I post.”
14) Do you plan to remain on LinkedIn and continue posting photos which you believe best represent your company’s brand?
Galek: “Absolutely, I love the LinkedIn platform and have recently bought stock. I suggest you do as well, it is incredibly undervalued. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner recently donated his $14 million dollar stock bonus back to his employees. You have to respect a company with great leadership like this.”
15) What message do you have for LinkedIn users about running a successful startup?
“If you want to succeed in life you have to blaze your own paths.”
Galek: “You can follow others into mediocrity or you can create something that will be remembered. I’m reminded of a quote from Alexander the Great: ‘I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion."
“To every detractor and naysayer that commented negatively towards me, I say thank you. You inspired me to work harder to prove you wrong. To all of my supporters and the people that took the time to message me with their thoughts, advice, and kind words, I am in your debt.”
In the sphere of public relations and social marketing there are two kinds of media coverage. First, there’s free or earned media, such as what Candice has received. Second, there’s paid media, such as online ads and story placement services.
Candice has successfully leveraged the content controversy by receiving a substantial amount of free publicity.
- An April 2016 article on Inc.com states: “Bikini Luxe's website traffic from LinkedIn now rivals that coming from Pinterest, and sales have spiked dramatically. There are certainly some entrepreneurial lessons to be learned from Candice's story…her posts now generate almost as much engagement as well-known business leaders like Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates.”
- A March 2016 article on Forbes.com notes, “In less than 20 months she’s taken her retail company from a tiny living room table in Miami Beach to a warehouse and a team of more than 40 employees worldwide and has amassed a social media following of more than 250,000.”
- A May 2015 article on FoxBusiness.com points out, “On Wanelo, for example, Bikini Luxe has gained almost 30,000 followers on its page since joining in December. Founder Candice Galek says the Miami-based startup’s sales have doubled monthly due in large part to the mobile and social strategies – from shout outs on Instagram to featuring on the Wanelo mobile homepage – the social shopping network has helped them implement.”
Moreover, the following message from Candice appears on her company’s blog:
“I enjoyed reading all your comments and debating with you. It’s always a pleasure to hear the intelligent, informed opinions of experienced professionals like yourselves."
"The last two years have been quite a journey and we hope to continue to spread the word about the happy, content, sexy, and fun beach lifestyle that Bikini Luxe is all about, and all my company has to offer.”
What do YOU think about the hot fuss on LinkedIn over Bikini Luxe?
Note: All photos courtesy of Bikini Luxe. The author does not know Candice Galek, nor does he have any affiliation with Bikini Luxe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I'm an independent writer and strategic communications advisor with over 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors, including work in the White House, Congress, national news media and elsewhere.
NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector employer, private sector employer, organization or political entity.