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The Fyre Festival: The Downsides of Social Influence

The best music festivals in the world bring to mind fun days of cheering and dancing, live performances, delicious food and pumping music in a wonderland of nature, filled with like-minded people in high spirits.

The organizers of the Fyre Festival seemed to have this in mind when they pictured two weekends celebrating all things music, surrounded by a stunning backdrop of sun-kissed beaches and clear waters, beautiful people, luxurious accommodations and the hippest music.

It was amazing and it was ambitious, but they were able to sell the idea to the elite millennials of the internet, thanks to social media influencers who all either believed in the hype they helped create or couldn’t care less about whether the promises will actually come to fruition.

The Fyre Festival

The Fyre Festival was envisioned by its head organizers, Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, to take place on an island in Great Exuma, Bahamas.

Scheduled over two weekends in April and May 2017, they promised attendees a luxurious festival with great music, first-class accommodations, and meals from celebrity chefs, all while asking top dollar for the experience, of course. They promised the best of everything in their, now infamous, teaser video.

These Instagram celebrities who helped promote the festival all have one thing in common: they all have a big following. Anybody who has plenty of Followers can be an influencer, whether on Instagram or any other social media platforms. If you’re trying to rise to influencer status, include buying Followers and other social signals in your marketing to help boost your progress and get there faster.

Influencers hold a pretty powerful position. They can make your advertising campaign a success, even if your actual product or service isn’t so great. That’s what happened in the case of the Fyre Festival, which turned out to be a “transformative experience” for the people who went, but not in the way that the organizers hoped.

Dream Party Turned Nightmare

The transformative experience the Fyre Festival claimed it would provide was not the disaster festival-goers described the whole event to be, right from the moment they arrived on the island.

When attendees got to the venue, there were no musical performances from top musicians, no luxury tents, and no VIP experience. The promised gourmet food was also anything but.

Some guests said that the promised “luxury accommodation” were more like disaster tents and likened the venue to a refugee camp.

Image credit: DailyMail

Getting back home proved to be another struggle. Guests trying to get home were left stranded at the airport, waiting for flights back to Miami, the travel base for the festival.

Image credit: Tribune242

The disgruntled guests were quick to take their grievances to the internet, where they posted images of their experience. The fiasco went viral and the organizers took the heat, but the influencers who promoted the event on their pages did not go unnoticed.

The Downsides of Influencer Marketing

The Fyre Festival was created to promote the Fyre music booking app. The founders of the startup allegedly hired 400 “Fyre Starters” off Instagram. They include professional sports players, DJs, models, and other popular social media personalities.

Some of the most prominent Fyre Starters are Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski, who took most of the judgment from the netizens for promoting the event shamelessly without disclosing that they were actually paid posts.

The Federal Trade Commission requires a sponsored brand campaign to be disclosed to consumers, but of all the Instagram celebrities paid to promote the Fyre Festival, only Emily Ratajkowski indicated #ad on her post. Unfortunately for her, hashtags aren’t enough for the FTC.

There’s nothing illegal about influencer marketing and as long as influencers clearly and conspicuously disclose sponsored posts, both brands and influencers can benefit from its huge weight on consumer decisions. Celebrities, however, keep sneaking in sponsored posts for the obvious reason that their posts will be seen as less authentic and they’ll lose connection with their audience.

So, as the hype of the Fyre Festival turned into a nightmare, both the organizers and the Instagram Fyre Starters found themselves the subject of several class action lawsuits.

It goes without saying that the influence of popular social media personalities depends on their credibility. So when a promoted event flopped badly, their credibility is at risk – after all, can you trust them the next time they promote something that’s supposed to be awesome?

Likewise, a brand’s reputation gets affected when its influencers are subject to unfavorable circumstances. They become connected: brands suffer when their influencers suffer, and the influencers’ credibility suffers when their partner brands fail to live up to their promises. Such are the downsides of influencer marketing.

It’s because of these dangers that brands should take extra care in choosing online celebrities who will represent them. In the same way, influencers should choose wisely the brand they want to be associated with. When they do, taking responsibility for whatever they promote in public will be easier because you can truly trust that brand.

Incidentally, brands can be social media influencers themselves if they use social proof in their marketing. Social proof in social media consists of your Followers, along with the Likes and Comments on your posts. If you buy Followers, you essentially boost the social proof of your business.

If you add buying Followers and other social signals to your organic marketing, you could potentially end up with a massive following that will earn you an influencer reputation online, because people follow those who already have a large following. That’s the principle of social proof.

Avoiding Social Media Marketing Disasters

Avoid getting sucked into a promotional mess and having your reputation take a nosedive by following these safe influencer marketing campaign guidelines below.

Do your research

Don’t get involved with a company without doing a background check on it. The founder of Fyre Media is a case in point.

Billy McFarland has a history of over-promising exclusive and lavish events targeted at status-seeking millennials. As with the Fyre Festival, the actual state of the event was a far cry from what was advertised.

Be transparent

Be honest about the nature of your posts and declare your business relationship with your brand partner. Your authenticity might suffer but your audience will appreciate your honesty, and honesty breeds loyalty.

Get involved

If you are going to endorse a brand, remember that you have an ethical and moral duty to your audience to make sure they get what the brand – and you – promised. So get involved in the campaign and follow through on the progress of all logistical demands, particularly if it’s an event.

Sadly, the Instagram influencers of the Fyre Festival did not even come on the day. There were reports that at the first inkling of things going south, the organizers, including Ja Rule and McFarland, told A-listers not to come.

Bella Hadid, apparently, was one of those who got the warning. But while festival goers desperately lined up in the airport trying to get home, did she use her influence to help? Nope. She was lounging on a pool chair in Miami, chilling out with a friend.

Image credit: DailyMail

Own your mistakes

Influencer marketing is a tricky business. If things went wrong despite everything you’ve done to make sure they don't, avoid greater backlash by owning your mistakes.

Ask any customer service rep and they’ll tell you that apologizing is the first rule in handling angry customers, whether or not their reasons are valid. It’s an effective way of showing you value your audience – and their business.

Be Accountable

The Fyre Festival is an ultimate example of how powerful influencer marketing can be. The thousand-dollar tickets the organizers were able to sell were built on the advertising of Instagram-famous people whose influence reaches millions on the platform.

Indeed, what was supposed to be a luxury music experience turned into a real-life disaster and the influencers of Instagram had a role in creating it.

The Fyre Festival has shown us that it pays to be honest in advertising. That overpromising, if you’re a brand, could lead to disastrous results, and that if you’re an influencer, disclosing an endorsement was paid is a legal, if not a moral obligation to your audience.

Date: June 27, 2017 / Categories: Case Studies, Interesting, / Author: Chell


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