Fyre Festival Fiasco: The three mistakes Influencers made (and how they can avoid them in the future)

This past weekend’s Fyre “Festival” flamed out in a failure of epic proportion. Initially hyped as the “Cultural Experience of the Decade”, the festival’s organizers are now facing a $1oo million dollar lawsuit and a frenzy of social media backlash.

Speaking of the festival’s organizers, they leaned more heavily on social media influencers than any event in history. Referring to the 400+ influencers that they paid to be “Fyre Starters,” they spent millions (including a reported $250k to Kendall Jenner alone) and tallied a jaw-dropping 300 million impressions in the first 48 hours. They had influencers post this cryptic orange image to their respective Instagram accounts…

Now that the Fyre Festival has been reduced to embers (pardon the pun) it’s time to play the blame game. I’d argue that 99% of the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the event’s organizers.

The other 1%, however, lies on the shoulders of the Fyre Starters.

When an individual has the ability to influence large groups of people, she or he has a responsibility to think about the message that they’re portraying and the products that they’re endorsing. Like it or not, influencers are role models and there’s a certain amount of accountability that comes with that.

There were three primary mistakes that influencers made in promoting the festival…

  1. They didn’t understand the product they were endorsing. The most effective brand <> influencer collaborations are the result of an influencer understanding the product well enough to personally endorse it. Similar to the influencers who endorse teas promising to help people lose 20 pounds overnight, there’s a big difference between an authentic endorsement and a forced one. The former is a much more sustainable way to ensure that they maintain long-term relevance and sustain a relationship rooted in trust with their audience.
  2.  They didn’t collaborate directly with the organizers. Vanity Fair reported that the festival’s organizers worked with both a P.R. agency and a creative agency to set up their 400+ influencer posts. What almost certainly happened was that influencers’ reps presented the opportunity to post a photo representing the festival for a hefty pay-day and they couldn’t resist the easy money . At Cohley, we always encourage brands to get to know the individual influencers that they’re working with (and vice versa) and, if possible, to form long-term relationships that consistently benefit both sides.
  3. They didn’t own up to their mistake. It’s not enough for supermodel Bella Hadid, who has 12.6 million Instagram followers, to claim after the fact that she was misled by the organizers in a half-hearted apology. Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski are among the more prominent Fyre Starters who have simply deleted their related posts and pretended that it never happened.

    The Fyre Festival is a cautionary tale for both the people who paid thousands of dollars for tickets and for the influencers who helped convince them to do so. In the ever-expanding realm of brand <> influencer collaborations, it will be the influencers who maintain a high level of authenticity and foundational trust that will sustain relevance.