When you think about LinkedIn, bikinis typically don't come to mind. However, if you've spent any amount of time on LinkedIn lately, there is a good chance you'll know the saga of Bikini Luxe and its founder Candice Galek. 

Now, every startup wants to go viral at some point. After all, who wouldn't want free widespread publicity? The problem, however, is that viral marketing is easier said than done. Viral marketing is a finicky beast and one that hinges on the perfect combination of timing, authenticity, and luck.

Candice, however, has managed to strike just the right balance and is now riding a wave of notoriety. She began by posting images of her products being modeled by Miss Universe contender Natalie Roser and other models with the caption "Is this appropriate for LinkedIn?" "The goal was to test the waters and start a conversation," said Candice. "I didn't expect there to be such a tremendous response or controversy." 

The post, however, generated an incredible amount of attention, garnering over 50,000 views, 500 comments (both positive and negative), and increasing her number of LinkedIn followers by over 30,000.

After talking with Candice and reflecting on her story, I realized just how difficult it can be to ride the wave of viral marketing. At BodeTree, the team and I have tried to be controversial and go viral at various different points in time, but we have never made it as big as Bikini Luxe (due in no small part to our position in the financial industry versus the swimwear industry).

Candice, on the other hand, has done an excellent job taking advantage of this "lightning in a bottle" moment. 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. 

Lesson No. 1: When it comes to dealing with internet trolls, intelligence and grace always win.

When Candice's posts on LinkedIn started to go viral, the internet trolls (yes, they're on LinkedIn as well) came out of the woodwork. Social prudes and others feigning outrage petitioned to have Candice's profile removed, posts taken down, and her very presence banished from the network. 

To make matters worse, the social network's content algorithm kicked in, proactively deleting her post and profile picture without her notice. Rather than reach out in righteous indignation at the situation, however, Candice chose to engage intelligently with the team at LinkedIn and her critics on the platform.

After speaking to high-level employees of the company on a near-daily basis, Candice managed to get all of her posts and pictures put back in place. In fact, she now has her own follow button, and her posts now generate almost as much engagement as well-known business leaders like Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates.

Had Candice reacted with anger or rage at LinkedIn or her critics, the response would likely have been much different. Instead, she recognized this wave of controversy could benefit her business if she responded with grace. As a result, she gained an almost-overnight LinkedIn presence that rivals those of well-established business icons. 

Lesson No. 2: Walk the line, but don't cross it.

People who try to "go viral" by being intentionally controversial usually fail. The public has a nose for contrived, forced efforts, and they respond with disdain. The "scary singing clown" campaign that Kabbage released a few years ago comes to mind. Still, relatively few things go viral without some intention. The key to success is a nuanced approach that looks natural but still has intention behind it. 

Intentional or not, Candice struck the perfect balance in her LinkedIn posts. The images themselves weren't overt or pornographic, as some commenters claimed. However, they were certainly outside of the buttoned-up norm that is expected of LinkedIn.

This balance allowed for a genuine conversation that drove people to engage, rather than disregard. Had she pushed the boundaries too far at the onset, I believe she would have been written off right away. 

Lesson No. 3: When opportunity knocks, be ready to answer.

Once her company went viral, Candice was inundated with connection requests and opportunities. Rather than let these simply pass by, she has embraced them with gusto. She recognized this is a once-in-a-business opportunity and is getting the most out of it.

Throughout the process, she has connected with fellow entrepreneurs, investors, and media personalities. She has been able to leverage these connections to secure her very own column in Inc. Magazine and become a LinkedIn Influencer. 

The great "LinkedIn Bikini Controversy of 2016" is a valuable lesson for entrepreneurs of all kinds. Controversy, if handled with nuance and grace, can be a great way to jumpstart a conversation in the most unlikely of venues.

Whether it was intentional or not, Candice and the team at Bikini Luxe have managed this situation with a skill and aplomb that most marketers can only dream of. 

Published on: Apr 19, 2016