Needless to say, the Fyre Festival was a huge disaster. On the worst side of things, it cost innocent people significant sums of money and put them in dangerous situations. From a business perspective, this event brought a lot of attention to influencer marketing—even my mom now knows what influencer marketing is—but in a way that has negatively affected many people’s perception of influencer marketing. What’s important here is The Fyre Festival Does Not Represent Influencer Marketing. Heck, it wasn’t even a success from a basic marketing perspective.
What was the Fyre Festival?
The Fyre Festival was a music festival that intended to promote the Fyre booking app. Created and promoted by Billy McFarland (Fyre Media, CEO) and Ja Rule (yes, this Ja Rule), the Fyre Festival meant to be a “luxury” event with tickets and experiences costing $50,000 or more.
Looked exciting and well-planned, right? The problem is that the entire event ran like a scam. The event lacked enough food, the living situations were dangerous, people were trapped at the airport and on location, and more. One popular picture sums up the sad experience:
Here’s the dinner they fed us tonight. Literally slices of bread, cheese, and salad with no dressing. #fyrefraud #fyrefestival #dumpsterfyre pic.twitter.com/NmNXakSFlq— Trevor DeHaas (@trev4president) April 28, 2017
Due to the disastrous results of the event, the organizers were hit with eight lawsuits. Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in jail and court-ordered to pay back $26 million.
What does influencer marketing have to do with all of this?
Two documentaries were made: one on Hulu titled Fyre Fraud and one on Netflix titled Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Both of these released four days apart in January of 2019 and are worth watching because they provide two different points of view and varying material. Influencer marketing is one of the topics that both documentaries focused on and exposed this hidden marketing strategy to the general public.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is where popular or influential people or companies on social media, such as makeup artists, gamers, and musicians, promote something to the general public. Influencer marketing works, and it works really well for many reasons.
- Organic reach on social media is declining
- People don’t trust brands
- Use of ad blocker is up
The key success of influencer marketing is that it’s more human than other types of marketing; people buy from people they trust. Influencer marketing was the primary success factor behind the Fyre Festival ticket sales. In fact, over 400 influencers promoted the festival.
Is this instance a typical representation of influencer marketing?
The Fyre Festival does represent how a tool can be used for bad. It does not represent what influencer marketing is really about and all the amazing work that marketers and communicators are doing to promote great products and impactful messages. Stated another way, the Fyre Festival does not represent a good influencer marketing campaign.
It’s also important to note that from a business perspective, Billy and his team lacked the success they hoped to have. They aimed to sell about 40,000 tickets but only sold about 8,000. That said, their strategy still convinced people to go from not knowing what the festival was at all, to being willing to spend upwards of $12,000 on an event ticket. Afterwards, people tried blaming the marketers and the influencers. While it is the responsibility of an influencer to invest in learning about the products they promote in order to protect their followers and themselves, one opinion piece posted on The Drum stated:
“…the influencers and marketers were responsible only for getting people to buy tickets. The fault lies with the event organizers on the ground, who were evidently more inept than Ashlee Simpson was at singing.”
– Samuel Scott – No, the Fyre Festival debacle did not kill ‘influencer marketing’
Here’s the Fyre Festival’s original pitch deck:
What’s important to understand about influencer marketing?
People are far more willing to trust a popular person than a random, faceless ad. So when done correctly, there is no stronger form of advertisement than someone utilizing an influencer and their fanbase.
While there are always a few bad apples, the best, most worthwhile influencers make their money by being authentic, so it would make sense to believe that even if they are being paid, that they are also being honest with their fans.
“Influencer marketing is more than just posting a picture with a product on Instagram. Influencer marketing is powered by not only word of mouth communication, but creating authentic and transparent relationships with your community over time. By building these relationships over time, you are able to gain trust amongst your community, which is more valuable than any monetary incentive you can achieve. In order for influencer marketing to work, it has to be a true win-win situation for the brand, as well as the influencer. Authenticity is lacking in most posts, but those partnerships that are really “real” will be the ones that will be successful.”
– Karen Freberg – Associate Professor at the University of Louisville & Influencer Marketing Expert
Here are a few tips to keep your brand safe and your influencer marketing campaign focused on ROI:
- Use all influencer types, including macro and especially micro influencers.
- Make sure your influencers are compliant with FTC guidelines. You want this from a legal and ethical perspective.
- Vet your influencer’s content, fraud level, and audience. Remember, just because your influencer lives in country X, it doesn’t mean their audience is from X.
- Ensure your agreement with influencers includes the ability to use their content throughout your other marketing channels.
- Work with influencers to put paid media behind content that’s doing well.
- Tools matter for sourcing, messaging, managing incentives, reporting, and so on. Not using a tool for influencer marketing is as if not using something such as Hootsuite to manage your social media channels.
Here’s a presentation from a social media week speech that shares an overview of the Fyre Festival and success tips for influencer marketing and social media marketing professionals:
In the end, influencer marketing can have huge benefits when utilized correctly. Saying we need to get rid of influencer marketing because of the Fyre Festival is no different than saying the internet is the reason why bad things happen. Just as the internet has many great uses, so does influencer marketing when done ethically and carefully.