A Los Angeles ice cream truck owner says he really doesn't care how many followers you have — you aren't getting free ice cream in exchange for social media "promotion."
In a photo that has now — in an ironic twist — made the rounds on social media thanks to Reddit, the man behind CVT Soft Serve is firing back after receiving requests from social media influencers.
The sign on Joe Nicchi's truck reads: "Influencers Pay Double." He's the owner of CVT Soft Serve.
He posted the photo on the company's Instagram Sunday after he said he has received requests from social media influencers who want to exchange food for online exposure. He said it's not new either — it's been happening since the early days of his business — but for the last few years, he has received multiple inquiries every week.
"Our business is doing just fine without their exposure. I have had people come up to me and say, 'Man, this line is crazy. I'm surprised you only have 5,000 followers.' Why does it matter what that number says? I have a line down the street," Nicchi said.
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The ice cream truck owner said he appreciates the offers, but he operates a business and needs to bring in profits to pay the bills. He said his team decided to ignore social media influencer inquiries altogether.
Until last Thursday.
Nicchi said he received an event request for 300 people, and many influencers offered exposure in exchange for goods. Astounded by the social media exposure trend, Nicchi then made the "Influencers Pay Double" sign and posted it on his truck while at the Melrose Trading Post on Sunday. He said it started "kind of as a joke," but then his Instagram post was picked up elsewhere online and among other news outlets.
"I'm happy for the exposure, and I realize that it is complete irony that I'm getting exposure for this thing when other people have offered me exposure," Nicchi said.
The business owner said he "struck a chord" with online users, who have been leaving positive comments and responses to his new influencer policy.
Nicchi said he has researched social media influencer accounts and found that people can buy an online following, likes and comments. He said the biggest surprise was realizing how many people do not know this.
"I get excited to know that I am putting that out there and making people wonder why a food truck has 80,000 followers, but no one is at their window. It's not real; it's just smoke and mirrors, and it's not just in the food industry," Nicchi said.
With that knowledge, Nicchi said follower count should not hold weight for the future success of a business. He said the manipulation of new and small businesses by social media influencers has gotten out of hand.
"Newer businesses feel like they have a gun to their head and that they have to do this because this person might write something bad about them, and they just got started and are trying to make the business work. It's definitely a form of bribery, and it's obnoxious," Nicchi said.
Nicchi said he reached out to Reddit user Rick Cortes, who reposted the photo and began this viral sensation. He said he wants to meet him in person to take a fun photo of him paying for ice cream.
"I was pretty blown away and amused by the whole thing. I've always wondered how things go viral on Reddit and anywhere else, and I'm still not sure how it happened," Cortes said.
CVT, which stands for Chocolate Vanilla Twist, got started when Nicchi said he found a local dairy, bought some vintage trucks, and has been operating for the last five years. He said his follower count, which has increased since the viral post, does not speak for the quality of his business.
"I don't want to generalize a younger generation, but I think people really do hold onto those numbers as the markings of a legitimate business," Nicchi said. "Let's make it more about the taste of the food and the quality of the product and the service, and less about that follower count."