LinkedIn Caught in Viral Fuss Over Bikini Luxe Controversial Content
You may not have heard of Candice Galek, but you're likely aware of the recent controversy surrounding her social media content, particularly on LinkedIn.
Galek is the 20-something Millennial CEO of Miami-based swimwear startup Bikini Luxe, which has been turning heads on LinkedIn of late by implementing a controversial social marketing strategy that is, shall we say, a bit revealing.
The young CEO's two year-old online store specializes in designer bikinis - though Bikini Luxe does also offer a variety of leisurewear for both men and women alike. Nevertheless, many LinkedIn users have taken offense to the brand's images of scantily-clad models, images that, some believe, are not the right fit for the professional social network.
Yet, despite the hurricane of contention swirling around her brand, Galek has managed to maximize the social media attention to best effect. She's built a large network of followers on LinkedIn - now numbering over 37,000 - while also building her followings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms. Additionally, Bikini Luxe's user engagement and sales continue to increase, as Galek outlined during a recent interview.
Why do you think some LinkedIn users are offended by the photos you post?
"This is not a simple question, as there are a multitude of different reasons. The primary reason is that LinkedIn's 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, that perception seems to be changing. There's also a huge fear of 'Facebookification' among LinkedIn users.
But the reality of this is social media in its purest form. The public chooses what it sees. If you don't like what you're seeing, then you always have the option to opt out."
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?
"I respond to them with this: I post pictures which are no different to what you'd see on a bus stop or on a magazine in your local grocery store."
What's the business case for using photos which some consider offensive?
"For me it's simple branding. I plan to make Bikini Luxe a household name - what better avenue could there be than one that's in direct support of building your business?
I've received criticism 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's all about creating that emotional response, because that's 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'm not a good marketer, I ask this: When's the last time you got 16,000 comments on something you created? If that many people took the time to comment, how many do you think actually saw my post?"
Have you received any complaints from LinkedIn?
"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's an international platform - so I've taken the approach of choosing more classy and less revealing products in order to upset fewer people. There's a fine line between being memorable and being over the top."
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?
"Everyone's welcome to their opinion, and I'm of a different one. The models we shoot are professional models who earn their living from showcasing their beauty.
Many people don't 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're talking about a lot of jobs."
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?
"Censorship, plain and simple. And it's completely arbitrary with absolutely no chance for rebuttal.
I understand that this is something that LinkedIn's 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 - which hours of time and effort have gone into - should they not give the author a chance to rebut the detractors?"
Have you received more support or criticism from LinkedIn users?
"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 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 that I've received has been absolutely invaluable."
Has favorable user feedback come from all parts of the world?
"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 doctors' 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's no such thing as bad press. I believe in myself and my business, and I'll never let the naysayers or detractors slow me down. If anything, they just make me more determined to reach great heights."
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're worth a quarter-trillion dollars?"
On a more personal level, to what do you attribute your business success at a young age?
"Being extremely passionate about my business and being willing to work 18-hour days, every day.
Success isn't something that just happens, you have to create it."
Do you think that sexism and stereotypes of women are problematic in the workplace generally?
"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."
Do you support women's rights issues, such as equal pay for equal work?
"Equal pay for equal work is an absolute must."
What are your views about censorship on social media? Specifically, do you think women entrepreneurs, like you, are held to a double standard?
"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 publish."
Do you plan to remain on LinkedIn and continue posting photos which you believe best represent your company's brand?
"Absolutely - I love the LinkedIn platform and have recently bought stock. I suggest you do so as well, it's 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 that."
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 path.
You can follow others into mediocrity or you can create something that'll 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've 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 Galek has received. Second, there's paid media, in online ads and story placement services.
Galek has successfully leveraged the controversy surrounding her content, converting it into a substantial amount of free publicity for her brand.
- 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 Galek 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."
While her approach may be considered unconventional, Galek has successfully used LinkedIn, and the subsequent response to her content, to her advantage.
Main image courtesy of Bikini Luxe. A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Follow David B. Grinberg on Twitter