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Playing with Fyre: Maintaining trust in the influencer age

You’ve likely heard of Fyre Festival, the failed luxury music experience founded by millennial entrepreneur Billy McFarland and Ja Rule. If not, head over to Netflix or Hulu to get up to speed.

TLDR: Billy McFarland and Ja Rule attempted to throw a premium music festival on a private island in the Bahamas, sold out the tickets but neglected to do the planning and execution required to actually deliver the experience, forcing them to cancel the event after guests had flown in. Fast forward one year and McFarland is serving six years in prison for fraud and has been ordered to pay back $26 million.

After Netflix and Hulu released documentary films, Fyre has become the subject of many a meme, talk show conversations and press from the New York Times to TMZ.

So why is #fyrefraud attracting so much attention? Aside from an innate human obsession with watching something fail, it’s also a fascinating look at how the perfect mix of influencer marketing and persuasive salesmen can come together to sell just about anything. It also shows how quickly the fragile credibility of influencers can crumble, and poses important questions about ethics and responsibility in the social media age.

Lessons Fyre Festival can teach you about working with influencers:

Understand the interplay of trust and levels of influence. Be cognizant of who you’re working with and do your work to vet properly. This goes for both brands and influencers themselves. As an influencer, do your homework to determine if a brand is the right fit for your audience, and more importantly, if the product they are selling is real. Fyre Festival made so many false claims, from where they were hosting the event (on Pablo Escobar’s “private island” which was shown with a Photoshopped image) to the accommodations (private cabanas, which comically turned out to be FEMA tents). Despite these sweeping promises and compelling images, influencers should have done their due diligence to understand whether they were promoting an experience that was going to fall flat. For brands, it’s crucial that you examine influencers based on reputation as well as brand safety and fraud signals. Observe how they interact with their audience and determine if their profile fits in with your brand ethos. Will this person get to know your brand and want to engage with you for a long time or are they interested in a one-time paycheck? As an influencer, understand any product claims and make sure those are reflected in briefs accurately – especially if the product is new to market. If the product needs 30 days of use for consumers to see an impact, that needs to be allowed for during influencer campaign execution.

Learn the difference between macro and micro influencers. To continue on the point around vetting, it’s helpful to know the difference between macro and micro influencers. Macro influencers tend to resemble celebrities and have larger audiences over 100k followers, while Micro influencers are “regular” people with around 10k followers or less. Fyre Festival’s strategy was built around using the clout of macro influencers like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajowski. For this reason, the marketing strategy had high visibility, but there wasn’t a mutual element of trust. Micro influencers tend to do more work to understand the brands they work with to maintain trust with their audience, while macro influencers generally have an agency representing them that is there to negotiate payment – not to assess brand fit or authenticity. Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid $250k for one Instagram post for Fyre Festival.

Remember that you’re managing people. As a brand working with influencers, you’re essentially giving people the power to talk about your brand. Make sure the details of the engagement are clear up front. At one point in the Netflix documentary, the CMO for Fyre is outraged because certain influencers were posting without properly tagging the festival. Do the work to recruit from within your existing customer base and you will reach people who are passionate about your brand. Instead of looking for an individual to generate content for a one-off campaign, work to create lasting relationships where influencers have a chance to really understand your brand and how to best promote it to their unique audience. Involve your influencers in the full campaign process so that they’re aligned to your expectations and requirements from the start.

The Afterburn

The good news: Fyre Festival demonstrated the power of influencer marketing. Their strategy was essentially the crux of their success. By using an army of highly influential spokespeople, they were able to project the mere illusion of an exclusive, once in a lifetime experience. Well-timed promotions on Instagram where multiple influencers were posting an orange tile to represent Fyre drove visibility and curiosity around the festival.

The bad news: There is increasing skepticism around macro-influencers, and the coverage of the failed festival will likely leave consumers doubting macro influencer recommendations in the future.

The silver lining? There’s still trust in micro-influencers, and 82% of consumers say they’re “highly likely” to follow a recommendation made by a micro-influencer. This category is easier to reach, more cost-effective to incentivize and more likely to seek a long-term partnership with your brand.

In a time where influencers can clearly sell just about anything, how do you build authentic partnerships without the risk of losing consumer trust?

Olapic’s Creator Platform technology includes multiple features that can help you build better influencer relationships and avoid likely scenarios like the Fyre Festival.

  • GDPR-compliant platform with transparency to brands. Influencers’ opt-in  and communication workflow is designed to comply with the law and to provide transparent communication.
  • Brand Safety feature that vets influencers’ profiles and history. Computer vision and machine learning flag questionable behaviors about influencers before brands engage with them.
  • Seamless product testing and feedback before campaign launch. Custom workflows enable marketers to design the influencer experience best fit for their brand and product.
  • Managed campaign services by influencer experts. Our team is comprised of some influencers themselves who understand the nuances of the influencer space. Access to a trusted network of influencers can give brands a leg up during the vetting process and beyond.

Don’t play with Fyre. Learn how Creator Platform can help you build an authentic influencer strategy.

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