4 Losers and 2 Winners from the Red Swimsuit Instagram Explosion

A red swimsuit took over Instagram this week.

It was a simple-enough proposition –

“EVERYONE that reposts and tags us in this picture in the next 24 HOURS will receive a FREE Pamela Sunny Suit 👙👏🏻”

– but the young startup didn’t count on the wild response that this freebie would cause.

Soon, pretty much anyone who is connected with young, Millennial women on Instagram started seeing this red swimsuit over and over. Young ‘grammers vied for the free, trendy suit, and then some of their friends would get in on the action, and then some of their friends would get on board, and so on. “I get $64.99 swimsuit for free plus shipping and handling? Let’s do this!”

A viral campaign like this is a dream come true for a cash-strapped startup. Overnight, the account jumped from around 200k followers to over 750k. (That’s a 375% jump!)

Unfortunately, SunnyCoClothing wasn’t prepared for it.

In the middle of the campaign, the account published a new post—same red swimsuit, but with a 7-point clarification for the thousands of new fans, including the stipulation that they had the “right to cap the promotion if deemed necessary.”

The promotion officially ended, and the “two young entrepreneurs” posted another message of thanks—with more clarification:

As the dust settles on #SwimsuitGate, let’s tally the scores. Who won? Who lost? And who cares?

Loser: Your Instagram Feed

No one really wants to go on Instagram and scroll past the same photo over and over.

Which helps explain some of the popular reactions that popped up on Twitter yesterday:

Note: this last one is, of course, a fake account.

Loser: A Lot of Angry Customers

As the promotion continued throughout the day, some of the people that actually tried to buy the swimsuit began commenting up a storm on the company’s social profiles. As reported by Buzzfeed, many of these would-be bikini buyers had been charged the full amount for the suit even after completing all promo requirements.

As of Thursday night, the company’s official Facebook page was shut down—presumably because of the onslaught of comments.

Not a good look.

Loser: The Alzheimer’s Association

A $1 donation to the Alzheimer’s Association per order is a pretty easy promise to keep when you’re making $70 on each product. But what happens when you’re not making anything, and then sales take off?

Enough said.

Loser: The SunnyCoClothing brand

While they certainly made a splash, these swimsuit sellers will be lucky to keep their company afloat. To say the least, giving their product away for free to tens of thousands of people will probably leave them with big losses to cover. Good luck selling any of those swimsuits at sticker price now that everyone thinks they’re worth about $0.

On top of that, many people commenting on social media just think the whole company is a scam.

Winners: Those Insta-Models

Influencers are huge on Instagram. I’ve argued that brands shouldn’t even worry about their follower count anymore. Instead, brands need to start focusing on reaching their audience through people that can represent your product or service for you in an authentic way that plays well on each channel.

The influencer marketing strategy has been growing for years, and Instagram is arguably the best platform for influencers.

So if the young ladies that were featured (and tagged) in SunnyCo’s recent posts play their cards right, they could definitely be well-positioned to turn this viral sensation into a great personal brand for themselves.

Winners: “The Sunny Boys”

While their promotion certainly could have used some additional planning, these college kids now have some impressive social media marketing numbers to throw on their resumes. Assuming the hiring manager wasn’t one of those who asked for a refund, Mr. Alchalel and Mr. Silverwood can probably spin this into a decent job offer.

If nothing else, it’ll be a good story for the ladies. (And one might imagine that was the original mission for their bikini company, anyway??)

So. What Have We Learned?

As the Red Swimsuit takeover settles down, what can we take away from all this?

Social marketers for brands and young startups should note that we all need to plan our promotions very carefully. As SunnyCoCompany has shown us, a good social marketing idea can quickly turn into an amazingly effective campaign strategy. But, you need to have some crucial, guiding elements in place to sustain that quick growth:

  • Treat your customers right. Have the right resources in place so you can treat each customer like they’re your best customer. Respond to every message and address all concerns, and lean on actual customers to help deal with any chaos.
  • Craft a budget that makes sense. Understand what you’re promising and make sure you can afford all aspects of a promotion, including if it completely takes off.
  • Clearly communicate all important details. Carefully consider the questions or issues that customers will run into and include all details both upfront and completely.
  • Stay flexible. Even when you try to plan for every detail, something is bound to come up that you didn’t expect. Consider a pre-mortem so that you think about all of the angles.
  • Own your account. Make sure you take steps to verify your brand across the major social media platforms.

What do you think about the red swimsuit extravaganza? What points did I miss? Tweet me your thoughts on Twitter @dooleymr.