Griffin Thall sells string bracelets for $5 a pop.
At first, it sounds like a throwback to summer camp arm candy—you know the type—the more tattered, the more meaning threaded into each strand. But now, those string bracelets have created a multi-million dollar empire.
How did he and his cofounder turn a surf trip into Pura Vida Bracelets—one of the most successful brands on social media today? And how can your company do the same? With a little help from your influencer friends.
But first, let’s rewind back to 2010.
Griffin and his pal Paul Goodman spotted two guys selling bracelets on the beach in Costa Rica. They thought they could be a big hit back in their hometown of San Diego. On a whim, Griffin and Paul asked the artists to make 400. When they returned home, they watched as they were swallowed up by local boutiques.
It was then that they decided to turn their bracelet side hustle into a real business.
What’s the secret to all that social media success?
We sat down with the mastermind behind their Instagram account—CEO Griffin Thall—to dig into the tactics he used to grow his fan base and create a brand that so many people want to flick their way through.
Wait, does this story apply to me?
Before you dig in, think about whether a visual social media platform will work for your audience. The truth is, Instagram is usually best for companies with a younger audience.
Pew Research found that 59 percent of adults between the ages of 18-29 use Instagram, which is more than any other social media platform.
Successful Instagram accounts are also able to visually portray a compelling lifestyle that their product contributes to, like food, retail, health and wellness, and other industries. As you start applying Griffin’s advice to your business, keep these two points in mind.
Trick #1: Build a lifestyle first, and a company second
What this means for you: Don’t just sell your product to people. Instead, sell the kind of experience and feeling you want those people to have when they interact with your brand.
At first scroll, Pura Vida’s Instagram feed is a scrapbook of a surfer girl’s life. Endless photos of sherbet sunsets and sandy feet create a sort of Where’s Waldo game out of the bracelets subtly hiding in each shot.
That artsy mood board has singlehandedly created the Pura Vida brand. And what’s behind all the goodness? The Pura Vida lifestyle.
A lifestyle isn’t surfer talk—it means creating an experience where people want to follow the content you’re putting out. It doesn’t matter if you’re big or small, thinking about what your typical customer is like and the ideal life they want to live is crucial as you’re building your company.
For instance, if you’re a real estate agent, your typical customer might be a young homebuyer who needs a house to fit their growing family. But they want more than that. They want to feel like they can buy their dream home. Tactically, that might translate into content that includes photos of stately homes, tips for maintaining a home, along with ideas for how to save enough money to make a down payment.
Regardless of the industry, tapping into your customer’s mindset and then using that to build a thought out lifestyle is crucial.
“You know what’s not cool? When companies use their social channels to sell things instead of selling a lifestyle,” says Griffin. “Our products are just a souvenir of the lifestyle we create.”
How to actually create a lifestyle for your brand
1. Invest in high-quality photos
It might appear that your favorite Instagram accounts just use their iPhones to snap photos in the moment. But there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that gives each photo the right look and feel.
“Focus on really simple images,” says Griffin. “If an image can’t be put up as a billboard on a freeway, then don’t use it anywhere.”
For Pura Vida, that focus on quality comes down to identifying influencers and product photographers who follow their own aesthetic but also know how to tie that into the brand they’re working with.
“They don’t use their phones, they have real equipment,” Griffin explains. “But it’s done in a way that still makes it feel natural.” Instead of, for instance, a stark photo of a bracelet against a white background.
Above is a product shot that displays a collection, but it’s done in a way that feels genuine and approachable. The bracelets are scattered on the ground, with someone’s casual Converse shoes in the background.
The overall message? These are bracelets worn by real people.
2. Let your brand extend to other platforms
While Instagram is the main playground for Pura Vida’s content, their brand aesthetic stretches across all of their properties.
On the blog, the team publishes pieces on how to make seashell wall hangings, pineapple sugar scrubs, and other how-tos that appeal to their audience of young, creative folks. These DIY articles aren’t explicitly selling people their bracelets, but they implicitly help people achieve the mellow Pura Vida lifestyle.
“No one just buys an iPhone. They buy something that improves their life and makes things easier,” explains Griffin. “Sure, our bracelet isn’t going to do that, but people buy them because they really connect with the story.”
Once you flesh out your customer’s ideal lifestyle, the next step is to connect with influencers so they can help you illustrate what that lifestyle really means.
Trick #2: Stop whatever you’re doing and start reaching out to influencers.
What this means for you: Give influencer marketing a try, even if you’re not in an industry where it’s normally done. It takes some work to get going, but it can be a powerful way to catapult your reach.
Influencers are the most famous people you never knew existed.
The term refers to folks who have grown a following on social media, and therefore make a considerable impression on that specific group’s purchasing behavior. Maybe it’s because they have an enviable lifestyle, or maybe they take decadent photos of desserts. Whatever the hook, the fans who follow them respect what they say.
That’s also why they’re perfect folks for companies to leverage, no matter your follower count or filtering skills.
“We grew up on social media, so we knew that visual content was huge. And we realized that if you really want to tap into people’s newsfeeds, you need to work with people who have big followings.”
The cool part? You don’t need to have a giant budget or millions of followers to start.
The three kinds of influencers you see on Instagram
- Micro-influencers. These people have between around 5,000 to 25,000 followers. Micro-influencers will be more inclined to accept your product in exchange for photos and shout-outs to your company. Not to mention, this group often has a hyper-engaged group of fans.
- Mid-range influencers. After you see success with micro-influencers, the next step is to target influencers with even more reach. Namely, people with 25,000-100,000 followers. Typically, this band will charge you for a partnership.
- Insta celebs. These are people who have over 100,000 followers, and will definitely charge you for any sort of brand partnership.
Once you understand the influencer scene, the next step is to comb through the site and write down the people you like who are connected to your industry. You can usually find their email address in their bio.
How to actually start an influencer program
1. Reach out to influencers that fit your “vibe”
Translation: Find someone who embodies the kind of image you want your brand to represent.
In the photo below, influencer @juliaawanner walks through a field of sunflowers. The casualness of her pose, love of nature, and breezy attitude help people associate that feeling with the Pura Vida brand.
Here’s another shot from @dreaming_outloud that taps into the same mindset:
To start the outreach, use Griffin’s playbook:
- Make a list of 500 influencers. Include their first name, last name, email address, follower account, and then drop it in a spreadsheet.
- Calculate the engagement percentage for the influencers you’re excited about. An engagement percentage is simply the number of likes and comments a post receives divided by the number of followers, and multiplied by 100. Research has found that a percentage between 1.64 and 3.48 is fairly good, while 3.48 and above is considered pretty high.
Let’s say one of your influencer’s posts has 5,000 likes and 75 comments.
If they have 50,000 followers, their engagement rate would be 10.15 percent (5,075/11,000 x 100).
- Come up with a compelling first email. This part is everything, says Griffin. Make it feel really personal, like it’s obvious that you follow them and already know what their brand is about. Look for people who would get some value out of working with you. For instance, starting with someone who has a million followers isn’t the way to go since they most likely wouldn’t get a lot out of the partnership.
To craft that perfect email, Griffin offers three pieces of advice:
- Offer them value. Give your influencer something for free (read more below).
- Talk to them like you’re a friend, not just a random follower.
- And be nice.
2. Send them free products or services that you think they’d like
Your influencer needs to feel like they’re a match for your brand in the same way you do. Or in other words, they need to feel like they’re getting something out of the relationship. For many influencers, free product is enough of an incentive, and for others, you need to pay them in addition to mailing off swag.
Unsure about what you could offer? If you own a nail salon, you could send a nail polish color that matches some of the outfits they’re wearing in their photos. Or if you own an interior design company, you could send them a candle or pillow that would look good in their home.
When sending out swag, be sure it’s something they either want to receive and/or that would fit in with the kind of personal brand they’re building for themselves.
3. Include influencers in your product launches
Griffin says the team spends a lot of time on logistics, so they can have their influencers promote new products. If they just launched a new ring style, they send them the ring before it actually launches. Then on launch day, the influencer is a part of the announcement. It’s little details like that that keep everything swimming along.
“It’s a lot of behind the scenes work—emails, calendar booking, time management—but at the end of the day, we trust what they create. That’s why we do it.”
Trick #3: Trust your influencers completely. If you hire right, they’ll create the best content for your audience.
What this means for you: Don’t micromanage. Give your influencers a chance to tell your story in an authentic way.
How is Pura Vida’s visual content so unified? Because it’s all created by people who know how to capture that easygoing spirit. “We don’t work with Victoria’s Secret models and try to portray a fake image,” says Griffin. “We just use real, normal people who like to travel, hang out with friends, and have fun. That has been the root of our success.”
To get to that level of authenticity, Griffin recommends that you give your influencers a chance to succeed. You’re picking them based on the content they create, so trust them to create visual content that speaks to their audience—who hopefully will turn into yours.
How to create epic content with influencers
Give them unique experiences
Griffin says the reason they fly influencers to exotic locales is to give them something of value and to help them create content in wildly Instagrammable spots.
For example, they might send someone to Kauai with a backpack of bracelets. Once there, they’ll go on a cool hike, or have them do a backflip in the middle of the ocean, all while the bracelets make a cameo in each shot.
While you may not be able to afford to send influencers on all-expenses-paid trips, you can still find ways to make them feel special.
For example, if you own a restaurant, you can create unique dishes based on what your influencers are like, name it after them, and then slap it on the menu. If you own a fitness studio, you can collaborate on a class based on the style your influencer is known for. Basically, the options are endless.
Send them to events where you want your product to be promoted
Pura Vida also sends their influencers on trips to music festivals like Coachella and Outside Lands. It’s an incentive for the influencer because they get to enjoy the experience, and it helps make their content more relevant.
Plus, when your influencers are posting photos at an event, hashtags and locations will bump up the chance that your audience will see it.
Griffin didn’t set out to start a company that would make waves through social media. He and his buddy just wanted to see if they could sell some cool-looking bracelets. But by letting influencers do their thing, he allowed his fans to tell the Pura Vida story at the same time he and his team were writing it.
And with a little thought around what your customer’s ideal life is like, so can you. Those tidy tiles of Instagram photos will help your fans enter a lifestyle that is out of reach until the moment they scroll into it—evocative and so you, braided together by your tightly-knit story.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a new series that reveals exclusive advice from small businesses that are seriously crushing it. Each story dives into one issue these companies wrestled with, along with the unique hacks they used to overcome it. The goal? To help you make your business just as successful.
We’re always on the hunt for best practices that small businesses and entrepreneurs will find useful. Have a story to share? Hit us with your best pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org.