screen shot of pura vida's instagram
Pura Vida Bracelets utilizes brand ambassadors, influencers of all levels and appealing, engaging social media photos to grow the brand. — Pura Vida

A good beach snap shows sea, shore and sky. A great one marries ambient light at sundown with artful composition, so you can taste the salty sea air and hear waves crashing as pillowy soft sand tickles your toes.

Vivid imagery shared among friends is engaging because it triggers a sensory response — the next best thing to being there. Pura Vida Bracelets, whose name means “pure life” in Spanish, harnesses the power of quality product photography and the feel of sharing among peers to drive sales: Revenue is up 125% year-over-year and social media is growing exponentially.

Pura Vida Bracelets’ Instagram following hit 1.5 million in April 2019. “We are gaining 40,000 followers per month,” CEO Griffin Thall told CO—. “We can definitely hit 2 million followers by the end of the year, which is just insane.” Instagram is the preferred social media platform among Generation Z customers, according to Piper Jaffay’s Taking Stock With Teens survey, released Spring 2019. On Facebook (which owns Instagram), Pura Vida followers top 1.7 million.

“Our followers are very engaged. We are averaging 25,000 to 30,000 likes per photo, month over month,” he added. Thall credits momentum to two drivers: Pura Vida’s unwavering commitment to image quality and the authenticity of those creating and posting content on its behalf.

“We are in a visual era – much more than even five years ago,” said Thall, who, with CFO Paul Goodman, co-founded the La Jolla, Calif., company in 2010, before photo-sharing platform Instagram went mainstream. Both men are among Forbes’ 2015 30 Under 30 honorees.

 griffin thall headshot
Griffin Thall, co-founder and CEO of Pura Vida Bracelets — Pura Vida

Cultivating superfans, brand ambassadors and college kids

Best known for colorful, string-and-bead bracelets favored by celebrities like David Beckham and Rihanna, Pura Vida Bracelets got its start eight years ago when Thall and Goodman took a post-graduation surf trip to Costa Rica. There, they encountered two young local artisans crafting bracelets with a simple sliding knot design. When the 400 bracelet samples they brought home were scooped up like candy, they knew they were on to something big, and Pura Vida Bracelets was born. Today, Pura Vida sources product from 850 artisans in Costa Rica, India and El Salvador, and Thall expects that roster to grow to 1,000 artisans by year end 2019.

Thall and Goodman enlisted brand ambassadors through a structured incentive program they created at their alma mater, San Diego State University, that would grow into a nationwide network of student influencer marketers online.

To date, 125,000 college students have participated in the Pura Vida Rep Program, which offers incentives and commissions in exchange for promoting the brand to friends and social media followers. March 2019 sales linked to Pura Vida Reps tripled those from March 2018. The program “is absolutely on fire,” Thall told CO–. “For those who understand how to unlock their true superfans and brand ambassadors, this is a very low-cost acquisition strategy to grow your brand.

“We took a gamble when we wanted to find a way to get into the news feeds of other people,” Thall said, recalling the program’s early days when he and Goodman went door-to-door to campus fraternities and sororities, offering free product in exchange for word-of-mouth promotion. “There was no roadmap. We just kind of figured it out.”

We are in a visual era – much more than even five years ago.

Griffin Thall, co-founder and CEO, Pura Vida Bracelets

The Pura Vida founders remain hands-on, nurturing relationships with brand evangelists. "I can say that I’ve met 90% of our influencers in person and have either gotten food with them, been traveling with them, or done something where it’s not just about a photo or a handshake,” Thall wrote in a 2018 blog post.

The influencer marketing alliance Pura Vida struck with “The Hills” TV reality star Lauren Conrad earned valuable exposure through her blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, Thall said. “She got us off the ground in influencer marketing. Working with Lauren Conrad was a great way for us to jumpstart the Pura Vida brand.” However, he said, new brands need not spend big on celebrities today.

“I would focus on the microinfluencer category, those people with fewer than 10,000 followers,” Thall said. “They are normal people in their communities who have gained traction. These people are good at taking photos, they are good at being creative and innovative on the platforms.

“And they are good at having fun in life,” he said — a quality that resonates in the photos and comments they post to their smaller, but better engaged, groups of followers.

“The microinfluencers seem to have more authenticity than someone like a Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber posting about your brand,” he added. While a microinfluencer photo may earn only 1,000 likes, Thall said, “that goes such a long way compared to getting a huge shoutout of 50,000 likes [generated by a paid celebrity influencer] who posts about a competitor’s brand the next day,” he said.

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