PopSockets’ newest product, a koozie with a PopSocket attached, looked familiar to some PopSockets fans. When the team posted a photo of it to Instagram, fans started commenting about how a prominent PopSockets influencer had come up with the idea first — years ago. “@kimbyrleigha created this first give her her money pleaseeeeeeeeee,” one commenter wrote. Another said, “And ur not gonna give her anything ? Not even a dime ?”
That influencer, who goes by her first name, Kimbyr, loves all phone grips, but she especially loves PopSockets. She’s been making videos about them for years, showing off new designs, teaching people how to properly apply them, reviewing them, and unboxing them. She has 57 videos filed under her PopSockets playlist in which she describes the popular phone attachment as the most “amazing and greatest phone accessory of all time.” She says she owns over 400 PopSockets.
PopSockets is well aware of Kimbyr, too. She toured its headquarters in 2018 and helped assemble some PopSockets for a video showing how the company’s creation process works. PopSockets CEO and co-founder David Barnett also emailed her in 2017 to introduce her to a lead PopSockets graphics designer who later facilitated Kimbyr’s relationship with the brand in the form of free products and an open line of communication.
So Kimbyr was shocked when she read about PopSockets’ plans to expand beyond phone grips and into koozies. The company debuted its PopThirst product last week, which is a cup holder that incorporates a PopSocket for extra grip. She came up with a similar idea for a 2017 PopSockets “hacks” video in which she applied a PopSocket to a plastic cup for extra support. The commenters called her the “PopSockets queen.”
“I just find it to be interesting that my video does have like 300,000 views,” Kimbyr says. “People did comment on it, and they remember it. It’s burned into their memory.”
On Instagram, fans tagged her and said she deserved credit. Kimbyr responded to the comments cordially and said that she’ll release a reaction video soon. Her YouTube channel, Kimbyrleigha, has more than 230,000 subscribers. She says she has more than 11 million views on just her PopSockets content.
A PopSockets spokesperson denied getting the idea from her, pointing to a 2015 Instagram post in which the company attached a PopSocket to a mug as evidence that Kimbyr’s idea was not original. “We love that our fans are enthusiastic about our products, but we are reluctant to call Kimberleigha’s post innovative,” a spokesperson said. They also said the new PopSocket product is “much more than our original PopGrip attached to a cup,” calling it “innovative” and “patent-pending.”
Whether PopSockets watched Kimbyr’s video or not, the entire situation highlights the complicated relationship influencers have with the products they get involved with as well as the codependence companies and influencers have on each other. In Kimbyr’s case, she loved PopSockets when she discovered the product organically, and so she started making videos about them. As the company gained popularity and people searched for information about them, she became the de facto YouTube expert, and she says her channel grew from 4,000 subscribers to 40,000 subscribers, all from PopSockets content. “People thought I owned PopSockets,” she says.
She created videos that essentially served as customer support, like how to remove and reapply one, and she claims that PopSockets’ team even told her that they showed their own employees her videos to teach them about the product. She says she reached out to PopSockets after realizing that she tapped into an audience that needed attention and answers. Her first PopSockets video has over 500,000 views, while her video about removing and reapplying PopSockets has over 1 million. In general, her PopSockets content performs much better than her other videos, so while PopSockets benefitted from her content in the form of sales and information, Kimbyr and her channel benefitted, too.
Kimbyr says she has spent “thousands” of dollars on PopSockets because the company rarely gave her free stuff, and now, after years of making content about PopSockets, she’s at a loss over how they could come up with an idea so similar to hers without any credit.
Tight relationships between brands and influencers can be mutually beneficial, but both parties should agree ahead of time on what they’re getting out of the relationship, say leaders at the influencer marketing platform Tagger. “This protects both the brand and the influencer; the brand has a more active role in what is being said about them, and the influencer can ensure they’ll receive agreed-upon compensation,” says Kelsey Formost, Tagger’s director of content.
Influencers sometimes feel like they’re part of a brand’s design process because they know the products so well. In Kimbyr’s case, she loved the product, helped sell it, and benefitted from making content about it, but she always wanted a tighter relationship with PopSockets. She says she reached out multiple times in an effort to collaborate with the brand, but she was almost always shot down. The company did increase her affiliate link commission to 25 percent for new customers and 15 percent for repeats to convince her to remove a video in which she compared PopSockets to its competitor Spin Pops. She says she received around $2,600 in affiliate revenue over the three years or so that she was part of the program. Now, Kimbyr views the whole relationship as a catch-22.
“If you don’t do the videos you don’t get the recognition [from the brand],” she says. “And if you do the videos then you’re caught up in this how much do I want to show? Do I want to start using their product in this crazy, innovative way?”
Formost says this is another reason brands and influencers should get their relationship in writing, saying it “gives everyone clarification for future collaborations.” That way both parties know how far their relationship goes. “Making it official means everybody’s protected — it’s a win-win,” she says.
Brands can be a ticket to YouTube success. A popular product will likely have more search traffic, which means people are more likely to find a YouTuber’s content. It’s Search Engine Optimization 101. But when someone puts an idea on the internet — especially one based on a product they don’t own — it’s fair game for everyone else to take and innovate on. PopSockets has the resources to make the PopThirst a real product; Kimbyr doesn’t.
Kimbyr says after this incident and after gaining more experience in the brand space, she doesn’t share her ideas freely. If she comes up with something that might be worth money, she’ll reach out to a lawyer and look into patenting it, or she’ll collaborate with a brand to make it a reality. She currently works with a PopSockets competitor, Nuckees, which she says pays her a contractor fee to come up with ideas. It’s planning to release a phone grip with lip gloss built-in and another one that incorporates aromatherapy. She hasn’t forgotten about PopSockets, though.
“I’m sad — that’s my ultimate feeling inside,” she says. “It’s like losing a boyfriend. It feels like I lost a relationship.”