What the Fyre Festival Documentaries Mean for Influencer Marketing

It was billed as an immersive festival on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma, complete with luxury cabanas, catered food and exclusive music performances.

Buzz quickly built for the Fyre Festival, fueled largely by slick Instagram promotions from social media influencers like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and model Emily Ratajkowski. Attendees didn’t blink an eye as they plunked down from $500 to $1,500 for day tickets upward to $12,000 for airfare and VIP tent accommodations.

When event attendees starting arriving, the reality was far different than the idyllic social media promotions. Gourmet meals were prepackaged cheese sandwiches, FEMA tents served as luxury accommodations and no performers appeared. The festival quickly turned into a widespread disaster on every level – ultimately leading to the event organizer Billy McFarland pleading guilty to two charges, receiving a prison sentence and fined $26 million for fraud.

Thanks to the release of Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” and Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” documentaries, the entire Fyre Festival story is back in the news – and putting influencer marketing back under the spotlight.

Here’s our take on what the festival and these documentaries mean for influencer marketing.

The Issue of Transparency

When influencers first posted an orange square with a stylized flame to their Instagram feeds to start the event’s promotional campaign, there was no disclosure they had been paid by Fyre to promote the event — as required by the marketing rules governing social media.

As Chris Stokel-Walker writes for “The Guardian,” “Legally, influencers are meant to declare that this is a business transaction – either by including the hashtag #ad in a prominent position, or by using a tag specially created by Instagram which labels the post as paid partnership, and mentions the brand below the influencer’s username. In practice, few do.”

The idea of transparency, especially as it relates to paid promotion, has long been talked about in the world of influencer marketing, with cries coming louder after Fyre. Whether it’s a mega or micro influencer, many agree there should be more and better “truth in advertising.” Attendees should know whether or not someone is being paid to promote an event and make decisions accordingly.

In “The Guardian” story, Matthew Spade, who has nearly 50,000 Instagram followers, explained how he doesn’t understand why influencers try to hide any transactions in exchange for posts. “People owe it to their audience to be as transparent as possible, and it makes for an easier relationship with your audience if everything is laid out on the table,” he said.

The Issue of Trust

Hand-in-hand with the issue of transparency is the concept of trust.

Paid Instagram influencers aren’t the only ones under fire. There’s been talk building for Facebook to include trust scores – just like scores given to Uber drivers and riders, Airbnb hosts and guests and Amazon sellers.

Especially for organizers who don’t have big budgets or are concerned about following the high-stakes rules surrounding paid influencer marketing, social referral marketing campaigns powered by peer trust are the way to go. Studies continue to show today’s consumers trust referrals from people they know.

Events already have a built-in platform of trusted influencers: attendees who share common interests, concerns or passions. Using a social referral marketing platform like Gleanin Connect makes it easy for attendees to opt-in to advocate or recommend an event to their contacts and networks as they see fit — keeping the all-important trust factor intact.

In hindsight, the lack of transparency and trust at the Fyre Festival was too good to be true (among other fundamental event planning issues). But that doesn’t mean events who use social referral marketing are destined to the same fate. Organizers should take the Fyre lessons learned and engage in authentic, honest and peer-powered influencer marketing and audience acquisition strategies.

Talk to the Gleanin team about how to increase registrations using trusted micro-influencers.

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